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Destination: Innovation. Who Has the Map?

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The pace of change in the current healthcare landscape, combined with a national focus on curtailing costs, is challenging provider organizations to apply new ideas and strategies to their clinical and business operations.

Most start with elimination of waste. But once you cut out all the waste and streamline processes to be as efficient as possible, the only option left is to do something entirely new.

You must innovate.

Confronting Inertia

For established, well-funded academic and research organizations, innovation and discovery is a foundational element of their work. But even in these environments, the translation of new innovations to actual change in care delivery can be a slow and difficult process.

The problem is much greater for community health providers that are generally cautious in their approach to change and have limited resources to devote to innovation initiatives. Even when a promising new idea or technology is introduced, reluctance to deviate from existing methods can negatively affect its adoption.

A Foundation for Innovation

There are two key prerequisites to becoming an innovative organization. The first is to create a culture of innovation, one in which new ideas are welcomed and celebrated, and in which challenging the status quo is seen as a virtue, not as unwelcome dissent.

This requires positive sponsorship from the top down, with frequent reinforcement of the message. Managers and staff should be incentivized to contribute their own innovations, and to participate in the trial and adoption of new ideas.

The second major prerequisite is to establish a process for innovation. This may seem counterintuitive—encouraging change but putting a structure around it—but even the most forward-thinking healthcare organizations have to work within the realities of limited funding, resources, and in-house expertise. Innovations must also operate within the boundaries of regulatory compliance and clinical quality controls. The right framework enables change to occur in a way that manages risk and supports adoption.

The figure below provides a conceptual framework within which innovation strategy exists to connect existing infrastructure and processes to new ideas and technologies in order to better meet the strategic imperatives of the enterprise.

Figure 1: Innovation Framework

Enabling such a framework requires focus and deliberate planning, but it has been done before and, as is often the case, we can learn from other industries outside of healthcare that have become highly adept at the process of innovation.

Building on the above framework, Figure 2 explores the types of questions that a healthcare organization needs to answer as it builds its innovation strategy.

Figure 2: Components of an Innovation Strategy

Innovation in healthcare is a strategic imperative that has the potential to deliver tremendous value to provider organizations. In addition to helping organizations address the immediate demands of reimbursement change and care model redesign, embracing innovation and creating a culture that supports it provides a means to capture the creative potential of all employees, and break through to new insights and opportunities.