The biggest roadblocks to COVID-19 innovation: 5 hospital execs weigh in

While the COVID-19 pandemic has paved the way for expansions in telehealth and other digital health technologies, some hospitals and health systems have still run into big roadblocks when it comes to innovation initiatives.

Here, five hospital and health system innovation executives share their insights on obstacles that have stood in the way of innovation.

Question: What's been the biggest roadblock to COVID-19 innovation? 

Eduardo Conrado, executive vice president and chief strategy and innovation officer at Ascension (St. Louis): Our innovation teams will be happy to return to the office for more in-person interactions. We're grateful to work safely at home and have made it work quite well, but we believe the value of face-to-face collaboration can add a deeper level of connection that is important when reimaging how we can serve others. 

Daniel Durand, MD, chief innovation officer at LifeBridge Health (Baltimore): The same as always – the twin devils of healthcare innovation; overzealous regulation and associated fears, real and imagined, over medicolegal liability. The silver lining of the pandemic is that the 'risk benefit' equation of healthcare delivery and biomedical research has shifted significantly, and it has allowed innovation to flourish over the past 12 months. Many of these innovations, such as telehealth and mRNA vaccines to name a few, will be saving lives for centuries – long after COVID is simply a word in history books describing a few unfortunate years. Wars and plagues come and go, but the medical innovations they breed last forever. The real question we should be asking ourselves is how we can perpetuate these conditions so that healthcare innovation can continue at this pace during good times.

Pankaj Jandwani, MD, chief innovation officer at MidMichigan Health (Midland, Mich.): Resources and supply chain. Healthcare innovation isn't resourced as well as it should be for a variety of reasons, including regulatory and supply-chain/infrastructural challenges. For example, even though we received the analyzers for the most advanced COVID-19 tests fairly quickly, the delivery of supplies to collect or analyze the samples was anything but predictable to meet the needs of our patients. Additionally, clinical studies and evidence published to support these tests has not been consistently available to providers. While the pandemic highlighted these issues and helped somewhat, I fear things will go back to 'the old way' as everyone starts to focus away from COVID-19 through 2021 and beyond.

Claus Torp Jensen, PhD, chief digital officer at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (New York City): The fact that healthcare remains somewhat disconnected data and process wise. Our patients rightfully expect us to be able to automatically connect the dots across time and space, not just within MSK but also across all of healthcare. We must collectively get better at that, remove friction and make it easy to get the help you need.

Sara Vaezy, chief digital strategy and business development officer at Providence (Renton, Wash.): It's simple really — folks in healthcare are tired. We have been overwhelmed with the COVID-19 response for close to a year and it is still difficult to look beyond the crisis. It’s easy to get caught in the dangerous territory of "we'll handle it once the pandemic is over”, but that’s tricky. The crisis has opened the door for immediate innovation — to not just us, but everyone. After the pandemic the timing may be too late. It’s absolutely critical for health systems to find the energy and the resources to take advantage of the innovation opportunities that have been put in front of us.  


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