How service innovation improved cancer care for kids

I read today about a wonderful story of service innovation in a Belgian clinic that has made radiotherapy for children less stressful, here in the Times (subscription needed). The innovation? Showing children films like Spongebob Squarepants, Cars and Baribie to keep the kids motionless during radiotherapy, removing the need for general anaesthetic. After the projector was installed in 2014, at The Cliniques Universitaires Saint-Luc in Brussels, the number of cases needing general anaesthesia dropped from 83% to 33%. This has huge benefits both in terms of efficiency and wellbeing for the children and their families.

Below I share some learnings from this great initiative.

1. Beyond consumer understanding to ‘consumer empathy’ 

The most powerful brand initiatives come from going beyond just consumer understanding to develop ‘consumer empathy’. This is a deeper level of emotional connection that requires immersive insight, such as observation and ethnography (below). In this case, the clinic got to the bottom of why children were moving inside the radiotherapy machine, making general anaesthetic necessary. “Radiotherapy can be very scary for children. It’s a huge room full of machines and strange noises,” explained Catia Águas, a radiation therapist at the clinic. Digging deeper revealed that the worst part of all though for children was being alone during the treatment. It was this feeling of being alone that made the children anxious and so made them move.

2. Think laterally to create solutions

A logical, rational solution to the issue of fidgeting children in the radiotherapy machine would have been to find a better, quicker form of anaesthetic. Can we find a more efficient way to send the kids to sleep? What about lowering the level of anaesthetic, for example? A better solution came from thinking laterally and coming at the problem from the child’s point of view. What things make kids sit motionless for a period of time? Anyone with kids will know that watching a favourite movie or TV programme has just this effect! “Now they know that they’re going to watch a movie of their choice they’re more relaxed and once the movie starts it’s as though they travel to another world,” observed Catia.

3. Prototype to learn fast

We love prototyping ideas on projects, such as mocking up new products or services. This way you can ‘test and learn’ and then refine the solution quickly. Catia and the team at The Cliniques Universitaires Saint-Luc used this approach to great effect. “In radiotherapy, everything is usually very expensive but in this case it was not,” she reveals. “We bought a projector and, with the help of college students, we created a support to fix the device to the patient couch.” With this rough, ready and cheap solution in place, the team were then able to test the effect of the change and get the hard data to prove its effectiveness.   

4. Multiple benefits

What a bloody brilliant idea Catia and the team came up with. It has benefits on multiple levels. First, and most obviously, it has reduced the need for general anaesthetic, making the radiotherapy experience less harrowing for children and removing the need to spend time in a recovery room after treatment. Second, this has cut costs for the clinic as they no longer need to buy and administer the anaesthetic . Finally, as the children are more co-operative when videos are used this has also cut the treatment time, creating further efficiencies.

In conclusion, what a great example of using deep insight and creativity to come up with a solution in an important area, that has benefits both in terms of wellbeing and cost saving. Hats off to all the team at The Cliniques Universitaires Saint-Luc.