As more healthcare organizations work toward achieving clinical transformation, often built upon data stored in IT systems, some healthcare leadership teams are formalizing innovation programs to incorporate ideas from local partners and stakeholders who provide care to patients.

Several of the nation’s leading healthcare organizations have established innovation programs that work to institutionalize the pursuit of performance improvement. Mayo Clinic, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) and Kaiser Permanente are among those that tout innovation centers promoting the open exchange of ideas among cross-functional teams that might not otherwise interact.

These health organizations have launched dozens of commercial partnerships and clinician-led initiatives as a result of their innovation center efforts. Several of the innovative initiatives they’ve spawned have drawn heavily from information technology capabilities, such as analytics efforts to provide better, more effective care for patients.

Clinicians at Houston Methodist Hospital review their patients’ Rothman Index scores.
Clinicians at Houston Methodist Hospital review their patients’ Rothman Index scores.

Such innovation initiatives can be facilitated by the considering how information technology can be applied to specific facility or industry problems. And with formal structure and guidelines in place, smaller healthcare facilities can implement similar internal innovation programs.

Healthcare facilities can lay the foundation for internal innovation centers by clearly defining the basic process for idea exploration within the organization. The process should include the following steps.

  • Establish a cross-functional innovation committee or workgroup.
  • Develop specific strategies for fostering innovation, which may include investment in early-stage technology companies or crowdsourcing ideas among internal team members.
  • Define a process for vetting ideas and validating potential ROI.
  • Refine the processes—from initiation, to prototyping and rollout.
  • Dedicate funding and identify specific performance measurements to track.

Communication is key in fostering a culture of collaboration and innovation. Regularly engage stakeholders throughout the organization to encourage participation. Introduce opportunities for cross-department collaboration to promote multi-faceted perspectives. Make employee involvement easy by offering simple online idea submission forms to get the ball rolling. Offer guidelines on known areas of need to help drive strategic focus.

Beyond promoting greater inclusivity across internal departments, healthcare teams should additionally look to include outside-industry perspective in innovation initiatives. Structure innovation teams to marry internal clinical expertise with technical innovators from vertical markets in and outside of healthcare. Although care delivery poses a unique set of challenges, the industry can learn from mistakes encountered in other more technically proficient markets.

Lessons learned during my time working on Dow’s R&D Innovation Center, for example, are equally applicable in the healthcare setting.

For example, instead of establishing a separate, freestanding innovation center, healthcare organizations could integrate innovation concepts, practices and incentives across the entire organization. Everyone should be encouraged and incented to join the innovation movement.

Another lesson learned at Dow was to task individual business units with innovation ROI determination and budgeting responsibility to drive investment accountability and encourage teams to take a closer look at innovation offerings.

A third lesson involved that, when vetting potential innovation partners, seek unbiased advice from an external investor. Should an innovation partnership advance, invest in the company and not just the product to create an environment where both parties have an equally vested interest in succeeding.

In the push to improve patient experience and outcomes while reducing costs, healthcare organizations are eager to identify ways to curtail waste and improve efficiency in patient care. Antiquated workflows demand re-envisioning, leaving the industry ripe for disruption.

The ability to work with rather than against outside forces holds far greater promise for advancing innovation in healthcare than the industry’s traditional siloed approach. This applies to both cross-department and cross-industry endeavors. Effectively promoting innovation in our hospitals and health systems will require a cultural shift—from leadership down—that champions cross-functional team alliances and allocates the time and resources needed to produce gains.

Like the collaboration required to deliver on care coordination under value-based care, healthcare’s ability to unite diverse stakeholders to find new ways to meet healthcare’s triple aim will be paramount to future success.

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