The strategy behind building a top innovation team at 7 health systems

Health systems across the country are building their innovation teams with an eye toward more efficient and effective healthcare.

Each health system has a different strategy for recruiting and retaining great innovators, sometimes from within healthcare and sometimes from wildly different backgrounds.

Here, seven executives and innovation leaders from hospitals and health systems across the U.S. answer these questions: How have you recruited and built your innovation team? Who are ideal candidates or team members and what are their backgrounds?

Chris Coburn. Chief Innovation Officer of Partners HealthCare (Boston): By philosophy, they are all business developers in one way or another. By training, we principally have MDs, PhDs, and MBAs on our team. They are all uniformly committed to executing their work at the highest standards. There is a requisite capability on the technical, operational or deal-making side. Our entire team is energized to be an element of moving innovation between the academic and commercial sectors. They live at that point of interface where they have the ability to help take an academic insight and see it deployed on the industry side. They all contribute in one fashion or another and derive great satisfaction from contributing to the health of patients by translating innovation from our faculty into products that will improve lives.

Rich Roth. Senior Vice President and Chief Strategic Innovation Officer of CommonSpirit Health (Chicago): Innovation is a word that can mean so many things to different people —for example, it can relate to new processes, products, or design thinking.

Several years ago, CommonSpirit Health began to use the term 'strategic innovation' to provide a focus within our organization for what our team does, while also opening up clear avenues for other internal areas to innovate in their own path.

Today, our strategic innovation team continues to discover the best novel technologies, services, partnerships, and programs from within and outside of our industry that we believe will drive the future delivery of healthcare over the long term. These valuable collaborations help our organization better provide the right services at the right time in the right place across the spectrum of the care continuum.

Before we incorporate these programs and technologies widely across our system, we first bring these novel capabilities in-house and use a rigorous program to test and determine how we can best integrate them into our clinical workflows; then we take them to scale. Our partnerships can take many forms such as customer contracts, published peer-reviewed studies, investments, joint ventures, or risk share agreements.

David Sylvan. Vice President and Executive Director of University Hospitals Ventures (Cleveland): That is a material differentiator for us. We set out very purposefully to find individuals who didn’t necessarily have a clinical background. We wanted to avoid the potential blinders that might handcuff us when building an innovations’ team. We wanted people who had innovative track records from other industries and who were captivated by our mission and mandate. We have to remember at all times that there is a patient at the end of every conversation and a provider who is responsible for their treatment, well-being and recovery.

Many of the team members have some element of design in their background, whether that be human-centered, product, experience or industrial.

Of course, there are many facets of our activities where specific expertise, such as business development, commercialization, intellectual property management, amongst others are also critical. We also want people who have the capacity to work beyond the narrow definition of their designations. The cross pollination of skills is important for projects, investment decisions and the ability to really begin to tackle the breadth of our opportunities from a variety of lenses. This is a differentiator in our minds.

Matthew Fenty. Director of Partnerships and Strategic Alliances at St. Luke's University Health Network (Bethlehem, Pa.): We have a combination of external team members, coming from user-design and pharma, to internal members who moved from completely different roles, but showed a passion for creative and innovative thinking. We view innovation as a consulting and advisory service for our health system so team members who are good at client facing work, crafting the art-of-the-possible, and being practical in solution identification with a combination of people/process/technology are the best candidates.

Kimberly Russo. CEO of George Washington University Hospital (Washington, D.C.): We are proud to have nationally and internationally recognized surgeons who are committed to education and research. As an academic medical center, we are constantly looking for ways to enhance care and we are dedicated to a learning environment. As new capabilities become available, we work with our educational partners to evaluate these items and bring them into our practice. For example, the GW School of Medicine’s Clinical Learning and Simulation Skills (CLASS) Center provides one of the most innovative educational environments in the nation. Here, students supplement their classroom learning with comprehensive clinical exposure, feedback and evaluation that prepare them to become both technically adept and compassionate caregivers. The CLASS Center provides state-of-the art high-fidelity patient simulators, robotic training, and surgical simulators to provide hands-on practice of essential skills, procedures and critical care training.

Jonathan Bandel. Assistant Vice President of Strategic Service Lines at White Plains (N.Y.) Hospital: At White Plains Hospital, our innovation team started organically and was driven by a physician leader. We have expanded the team as our strategy has evolved and recruited additional talent with vast expertise. An important role within the team is to assign a designated operational lead to spearhead targeted change through the organization based upon specific enterprise needs. We have hired experts from health system-based venture accelerators, private equity and venture capital firms, and start-ups. We have also identified physician champions within the hospital who are interested in working with us as we consider the future of the hospital.

Mark Coticchia. Corporate Vice President of Innovation for Baptist Health South Florida (Coral Gables): There are three cornerstones on which we will continue to build our innovation culture at Baptist Health. First is by recognizing, promoting and celebrating innovation. In doing so, we remove the stigma that 'innovation is not for me' and help employees recognize that innovation is a tool to help them better care for patients.

The second is by providing incentives and resources for our innovators to step out of their comfort zones and work on challenging needs. The best innovation cultures reward contributors at both personal and professional levels by incorporating things like employee challenges, innovation fellowships and opportunities to participate in offsite and even global collaborations.

Finally, top-down commitment is required for innovation to permeate the organization. In the most innovative cultures, the C-suite not only endorses innovation, but personally participates in and experiences the impact it brings.

In 2017, under the leadership of Dr. Barry Katzen, founder and chief medical executive of Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute, Baptist Health launched Innovation Institute Miami as a place where physicians and staff could bring their ideas as part of an effort to develop a culture of innovation in South Florida that will positively impact human health.

We will build upon Dr. Katzen's efforts in the years ahead.

Join us for the Becker's Hospital Review 3rd Annual Health IT + Clinical Leadership + Pharmacy Conference, May 19-21, 2020 in Chicago. Topics include artificial intelligence, telehealth, data analytics, clinician burnout, population health, pharmaceutical care and more. Learn more and register here. For more information about exhibitor and sponsorship opportunities, contact Maggie Dunne at

To participate in future Becker's IT Q&As, contact Laura Dyrda at

More articles on healthcare:
Partners HealthCare's investment strategy that led to $154M commercial, investment income in 2018
UnityPoint strategy head Kent Lehr runs the innovation team like a startup: 'You cannot be afraid to go all-in'
How Cleveland Clinic's model of care translates from Ohio to China: 3 Qs with Luye Medical Group CIO David Chou

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