Health Care

Managing for Healthcare Innovation

managing for healthcare innovation
In healthcare, not all innovations generate income, but all provide value — to patients, to the healthcare system, to clinicians, to caregivers, …

Many of Bob Kocher’s healthcare predictions for 2016 reflect such innovations, including wearables transitioning into “therables” and new drugs. Yet, his 10 predictions include a number of innovation failures, such as individualized medicine, insurance innovations, and new analytics companies formed around healthcare.

According to HBR, many great hospitals work diligently to cut waste and improve patient care, yet fail to generate large numbers of healthcare innovations. Here’s a quote from the article by John Toussaint as part of a joint article published by HBR (Harvard Business Review) and NEJM (New England Journal of Medicine):

… many of those ardent reformers are furiously running in place because they do not have the management system to support their goals. Worse yet, old-fashioned management-by-objective systems often work to actually undermine all of the good works by those frontline improvement teams.

His statement echoes what we hear in other innovation contexts — innovation requires a system, an entire process to focus on innovation and shepherd the innovation process to a meaningful conclusion.

Managing healthcare innovation

Managing healthcare innovation means setting up a system to nurture, harness, corral, and shepherd the innovative talents of employees. Here’s what Anthony, Duncan, and Siren said in a recent HBR article about building innovation engines on why innovative firms fail to innovate:

But few do so in an orderly, reliable way. In far too many organizations, the big breakthroughs happen despite the company. Successful innovations typically follow invisible development paths and require acts of individual heroism or a heavy dose of serendipity. Successive efforts to jump-start innovation through, say, hack-a-thons, cash prizes for inventive concepts, and on-again, off-again task forces frequently prove fruitless. Great ideas remain captive in the heads of employees, innovation initiatives take way too long, and the ideas that are developed are not necessarily the best efforts or the best fit with strategic priorities.

Given this sad state of healthcare innovation, what can hospitals do to motivate healthcare innovation?

  1. Recognize clinicians and staff do what you motivate them to do
  2. Improve communication both laterally and vertically
  3. Identify existing skills and knowledge embedded in your staff
  4. Teach scientific problem solving
  5. De-centralize innovation
  6. Lead with humility, not power
  7. Build a minimum viable innovation system (MVIS)

Healthcare innovation: Staff

Regardless of your organization, staff does what you motivate them to do. Motivate them to do things the wrong way or to do the wrong things and your results won’t match your intent.

Take, for example, the recent debacle over at the VA. Clinicians and staff were motivated to keep wait times low. Instead of innovating processes to serve veteran’s needing healthcare more efficiently, they falsified records to make it appear wait times were low.

If you want innovation; reward innovation, whether successful or unsuccessful. Why reward unsuccessful healthcare innovation? Because most innovations fail. If you only reward success, clincians won’t innovate for fear of failure. Plus, even failed innovations provide learning and insights to improve the innovation process and increase success rates.

Healthcare innovation: Improve communication

Not only is communication critical for healthcare innovation, communication is critical for the efficient and effective function of every other process in the healthcare system. Only through effective communication can staff understand the pervasiveness of problems in other clinical areas, build teams to solve these problems, and diffuse innovative solutions across the institution.

Plus, drawing on Granovetter’s work, improved communication across functional areas brings in the expertise provided by weak ties.

Healthcare innovation: Skill identification

Every clinician, manager, and staff member possesses certain skills. Some are standardized based on specialty or work area; others are unique to the individual. Building a profile of individual skills helps teams self-organize to develop healthcare innovations and improve the likelihood of successful innovation. In innovation, the old wives tale of too many cooks spoiling the broth is dead wrong.

Healthcare innovation: scientific problem solving

scientific method for improvement
Image courtesy of Institute for Healthcare Improvement

Healthcare innovation requires scientific problem solving — the plan, do, study, act process highlighted in this image from the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI).

IHI even provides a worksheet on scientific problem solving you can use to make your innovation process more systematic and scientific. Click here for access to the worksheet.

Healthcare innovation: De-centralize innovation

While innovation in any context requires a top-down mandate and support, innovations often come from the bottom-up. That’s because it’s the clinicians and staff on the front lines who see what’s going on and can often visualize what needs to change to create value.

Although innovation requires a process, that process shouldn’t contain a lot of bureaucratic red tape or an arduous approval process. In fact, many of the most successful innovations are the most polarized in terms of expert opinions of success and lack universal management support.

Healthcare innovation: Lead with humility, not power

This recommendation is a corollary to the one above.

We’ve all probably worked for bosses who ran an organization with an iron fist — it was their way or the highway. Or, they wielded an intractable MBO (management by objectives) system where failure to meet objectives resulted in severe consequences.

Innovation doesn’t happen in such organizations because members don’t feel that their efforts will be rewarded and, in fact, might mean dismissal.

Healthcare innovation: Craft a MVIS

Below is an outline culled from HBR as a pattern for crafting your own MVIS. Obviously, this focuses on non-healthcare innovation, but it can easily be adapted for healthcare innovation system design.

An MVIS is an innovation engine that systematically takes you from ideas to shepherding ideas through development.

Of course, you’re still pretty far from a successful innovation, but an MVIS sets you up for success by starting the process off on the right foot.

healthcare innovation

Image courtesy of HBR

Think you need some help?

Organizing for Innovation can help get your healthcare innovation engine burning. We’re happy to set up a free consultation to show how our process can help you bring ideas to life and help your professionals create the future. Please contact us if you can use some help.