Happier when taking the pills themselves

Earlier on, they needed assistance from a community nurse to take their pills, but now they take their medicine themselves with the help of a pill dispenser. The result is a better quality of life.

KNOWLEDGE @ BI: Disruptive Innovation

In a number of municipalities, as much as one in three visits by the community nursing service takes place because people need help to take their medicine.

What if this simple task could be solved by means of an electronic pill machine – a dispenser – telling the users when to take their pills, in the right order and quantity. That would free up the nurse for other tasks.

The electronic pill dispenser exists. It is one example of a new service challenging current practice. The dispenser can perform the task in an easier and cheaper way, but the users have to do their part and actually take the pills.

How will the users receive an electronic pill dispenser? How can one give the patient's family peace of mind that this is a good solution? What conditions must be met before the new pill dispenser can replace the current practice?

Challenging current practice

In his PhD project at BI Norwegian Business School, Ranvir S. Rai has studied what factors are important for a service to be implemented when it goes against current practice, and how it is implemented over time.

He is particularly interested in the emergence of new services that basically provide a "poorer result" than existing services. However, the new services are also simpler, cheaper and more user-friendly. If most people gradually come to see them as good enough, such services might change current practice radically.

Novel concepts of this type are called disruptive innovations; they challenge and sometimes even take over from existing solutions. Innovations like Spotify and Netflix are examples of disruptive innovations that have changed the music and media industry in radical ways. Innovations that challenge current practice are also coming to the fore in the health and education sectors.

Rai has looked at two technology-based services that aim to make radical changes to the current practice. One is in the health sector, where users are assisted in taking their medicine by an electronic pill dispenser rather than a community nurse. The other service is in the educational sector, where a digital tablet is introduced to replace the traditional textbook.

Better quality of life and money saved

The health study was conducted in the municipality of Sarpsborg, where the authorities had decided to test out electronic pill dispensers in their community nursing service. The electronic pill dispenser alerts the user when it is time to take her next pill.

Rai followed the introduction of the electronic pill dispenser for about 20 users over a two-year period. As well as observing how the solution was introduced, he conducted in-depth interviews and interviews in focus groups.

The new solution was well received. The users were able to take the pills themselves with the help of the electronic pill dispenser instead of help from a nurse. Sarpsborg municipality has saved a great deal thanks to the new solution, and the nurses have more time available for patients with more complex diagnoses.

By enabling the users to take the medicine themselves, a number of them now have an opportunity to engage in activities they were unable to do before.

"For several users, the new solution has opened the door to a better quality of life," says Ranvir S. Rai.

Has to fit in

A new solution will often challenge existing practice and will therefore be met with resistance. To succeed in introducing new technological solutions, the way it is introduced is crucially important, not just for the users, but also for their families and the staff that offer the service.

In addition, according to Rai, it is important that the new solution works well in the context where it will be used. It needs to be in harmony with the rest of the services.

"New services cannot be developed in a vacuum. Before a service is developed, one needs to have a thorough understanding of the current practice and how the new service can work in conjunction with other tasks to be done," says Rai.

Ranvir S. Rai. «Innovating in Practice: A Practice-Theoretical Exploration of Discontinuous Service Innovations». Series of Dissertation - 09/2016. BI Norwegian Business School.

Published 5. September 2016

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