The Value of Co-Creation in Health Care

Digitalization in health care offers providers a new opportunity to deliver individualized care through a wealth of patient access and engagement technologies. However, before making any major purchases delivery organizations should consult their most important, opinionated, stakeholders: patients. This surfaced prominently in a recent conversation with Michael O’Connell, the SVP of University HealthCare Alliance, the foundation arm of Stanford Health Care, about patient access and his success in managing both health systems and medical practices. "It’s important to co-create the changes that need to be made,” he said, “while focusing on how can we improve patient care, how can we improve patient access, and how can we work together to be able to create and prioritize the things that need to be worked on."

We can think about doctors and patients sitting side by side in making treatment plans for a patient, but when is the last time you heard about co-creation in the context of designing your patient experience strategy? It’s novel: while patient experience surveys are commonplace, most patients have not received an invitation to attend a roundtable discussion with their provider. This is exactly what Michael O’Connell means by co-creation: merging different perspectives of what care ought to look like to create new paths for improved patient experience. This approach has long been used by the hospitality industry but has gradually gained the attention of health care experts. According to the American Medical Association, it is a necessary shift.


In order to co-create - keep consumers at the center of the company mission, not just as patients who will show up, but as participants that want to play an active role in service creation. By opening lines of dialogue with your patients you can create a framework that enables them to play an active role in service creation that extends beyond online reviews or 1:1 feedback. When consumers are involved in decision-making and know that their health care group is listening, the organization stands to gain a great deal. Co-creation “integrat[es] customers into the processes of product and service ideation and execution,” to boost value, quality, and success (AMA), and turning patients into partners.


According to O’Connell, “whether we have lots of resources or limited resources, we still need to work together to be able to co-create the best approach to meet the patient’s needs.” And he’s right: the choice in putting patients at the forefront of health care is independent of the resources at hand; it is a paradigm-choice. It also doesn’t matter if the feedback isn’t from representative populations - your biggest fans will likely want to rave about you and send you encouragement - you just need to make it easy for them to do so. But if you make it difficult for the silent majority of your fans to engage with your organization, you may be left with hearing primarily from the critics.

In looking to embrace the co-creation mindset be attuned to how easy or hard you make it for your collaborators. Embedding the collaborative attitude in a practice’s core framework can be done through a combination of tools already available: automated patient feedback surveys, reputation management tools, online forums, roundtable discussions, and community town halls are some easy examples. But remember - it’s rarely about the tool - it’s about what you do with them and the mindset with which you create your ecosystem.

The Benefits

There are several advantages to a patient-centric approach:

  • Providers are better equipped. Knowing patients’ pain points, concerns, and interests gives providers a better foundation on which they can personalize care.

  • Patients are empowered. Facilitating conversation fosters transparency and trust in patient-provider relationships and makes patients more loyal.

  • Practice is made sustainable. The bidirectional learning in co-creation produces health care strategy that represents the ideals of the two most important contributors.

  • An increase in health literacy and adherence behavior. Clarity and concise information helps to ensure nothing is lost in translation when working directly with patients. It allows for personalized care and further nurtures the provider-patient relationship.

  • Barriers to care are illuminated. The subject to these barriers can directly identify what makes accessing care, or attending appointments, challenging; sequentially giving delivery organizations a more holistic approach to solutions.

  • The community is mobilized. Connecting with individuals as co-creators can have a cascading effect on the community by creating a network of individuals that health care delivery organizations can collaborate with while planning population health initiatives.

  • Reduce physician burnout. Involving physicians in decision-making, when married with positive patient feedback, can reignite the meaning in their work.

While it may be daunting to open the floodgates to patient input, implementing a patient-inclusive framework for discussing health needs and preferences can create a lasting impact. In the words of O’Connell, “We want to ensure that organizations aren’t just profitable, but they’re socially, ethically, and environmentally responsible.”

Michael O’Connell

Michael O’Connell presently serves as the SVP of Operations at Stanford Health Care’s University HealthCare Alliance. Prior to his years at UHA, he held positions at the Cleveland Clinic and Memorial Medical Group, as Vice President of Clinical and Support Services and Director of Operations, respectively. O’Connell has years of experience overseeing operations and strategic initiatives in hospitals and medical groups. Recently, he presented on cost-saving tactics physician practices should make use of during the shift from fee-for-service to value-based care, and also published, “5 ways to improve patient access.”

Sources and further reading:

  • “Co-Creation in Health Systems Design” Retrieved 6/01/2019 from AMA

  • “Using Principles of Co-Production to Improve Patient Care and Enhance Value” Retrieved 6/01/2019 from AMA.

  • “Empowering Patients to Co-Create a Sustainable Healthcare Value” Retrieved 6/01/2019 from Sustainability.