Exploring a Culture of Health: Disrupting the Doctor’s Office with Flip the Clinic

Flip the Clinic, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Program
Flip the Clinic, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Program

This post is part of Exploring a Culture of Health, a citizen science series brought to you by Discover Magazine, SciStarter and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, serving as an ally to help Americans work together to build a national Culture of Health that enables everyone to lead healthier lives now and for generations to come. 

Posts in this series will also appear on the Discover Magazine Citizen Science Salon Blog and the PLoS CitizenSci blog

Healthcare is an imperfect system. Your visit to the physician occurs only once in a while and when it does happen, these visits are often short, impersonal, and a drain on both your time and monetary resources (1). On average, a primary care doctor has more than 2,300 patients and each patient visit lasts for about 15 minutes (1). If you take a step back, you will realize that’s an extremely short time for both you and your physician to discover, process and understand an awful lot of information about your health. Not surprisingly, most of us have experienced an unsatisfactory interaction at the clinic.

But, this interaction is at the heart of healthcare and ought to mean a whole lot more, reckons Thomas Goetz who helped start the  Flip the Clinic, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) project that seeks to rethink the physicians’ visit.

Goetz, co-founder of the health technology company Iodine and at the time an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, came up with the  idea for Flip the Clinic (FTC), while listening to  a talk at RWJF by Sal Khan of Khan Academy. In early 2013, Khan spoke at RWJF about how he “flipped the classroom” by making lectures accessible online so students could learn at their own pace and do their homework in class instead, making full use of the teacher’s presence. Khan suggested that for the doctor’s office might be ripe for such that kind of flipping too.  Goetz agreed and almost immediately started the FTC project.

“Pragmatically, the doctor’s visit is a powerful part of modern medicine. The problem is that we are not optimizing this resource; we have not reconsidered and re-evaluated how we might exploit the visit to its full advantage,” says Goetz in a blog post describing the impetus for Flip the Clinic.

Flip the Clinic functions as a  hub for addressing challenges, exchanging ideas, and filtering those healthcare practices that work and those that do not. Through its website, everyone from patients to medical experts and healthcare providers can submit ideas or pose ‘flips’ relating to any aspect of the medical encounter. The community is encouraged to engage in a discussion around these potential flips.

An example of a flip on the FTC website (left) and posting and participating in Community Flips (right)
An example of a flip on the FTC website (left) and posting and participating in Community Flips (right)

Flips such as “How do I show patients that I’m invested in their health?”, “How can I encourage patients to learn more about their conditions?” and “How do you redesign the clinic?” have generated interesting conversations with comments from patients, physicians, nurses and researchers.

Like me, you will probably find yourself spending time on the site flipping through many thought-provoking questions and the exchange of ideas in the comments. And, perhaps, wondering how the emerging field of citizen science could help reinvent how patients and providers interact. One way citizen scientists could help ‘flip’ the clinic is by contributing to and using crowd sourced data from Flu Near You (2), a citizen science project. With this data, physicians and patients could alert themselves of an emerging infectious outbreak and prepare accordingly. Have other ideas? Share them.

At the heart of the Flip the Clinic initiative is youWhether you are a patient, a physician, a nurse, a hospital administrator or anybody involved in healthcare, your voice matters. Your ideas and your experiences are what will help ‘flip’ the clinic. Ask yourself: as a patient, what has frustrated you about your medical encounters? As a medical provider, what ideas do you have or challenges do you experience? Share your idea for a “flip” or participate in the flips proposed by the Flip the Clinic team or community. Would your organization like to contribute to the effort? Become an organization ally.

Flip the Clinic depends on your involvement. So go ahead and be part of the solution. Flip the Clinic!

Image Credits: fliptheclinic.org


  1. http://fliptheclinic.org/faq/ ‘why should a doctor’s visit change?’
  1. SciStarter is a citizen science hotspot and a partner of Discover Magazine. Flu Near You is one of the many citizen science projects on the SciStarter project database








Categories: Citizen Science


About the Author

Carolyn Graybeal

Carolyn Graybeal

Dr. Carolyn Graybeal holds a PhD in neuroscience from Brown University. She is a former National Academies of Science Christine Mirzayan Science & Technology Policy Fellow during which time she worked with the Marian Koshland Science Museum. In addition the intricacies of the human brain, she is interested in the influence of education and mass media in society's understanding of science.