5 thoughts on the democratization of innovation from former Cleveland Clinic chief innovation officer

Cleveland Clinic has long been known as a leader in innovation. Earlier this month, Thomas J. Graham, MD, former chief innovation officer of Cleveland Clinic, published a book about the health system's approach to innovation called Innovation the Cleveland Clinic Way: Transforming Healthcare by Putting Ideas to Work.

Dr. Graham is an orthopedic surgeon who served as chief innovation officer at Cleveland Clinic since June 2010. This month, he left Cleveland to become chief health innovation and strategy officer of Tavistock Group, an international private investment organization, and chairman of Lake Nona Institute, a nonprofit life sciences community based in Orlando, Fla.

In an interview with Healthcare Informatics, Dr. Graham discussed innovation in healthcare and why healthcare has a responsibility to foster innovation. Here are five key thoughts from his interview.

On innovation being a shared platform: "Innovation is something that can be democratized and spread; it shouldn't be thought of as just a single institution's competitive advantage; it's a platform for collaboration. So we sought to share our learnings not only from nine decades of our existence, but especially from the past two decades, in which we've created Cleveland Clinic Innovations, our innovation engine. So it just seemed that our level of maturity and trackable outcomes coincided with the clamor from other healthcare organizations and even organizations outside healthcare to receive learnings.

"Truthfully, we've put our 'secret sauce' into the book. We're not going to sequester it, because it's going to raise all boats. We've invited partners to share in this. I don't know that we as a population and citizenry, as an industry and as a whole economy, we can't afford a journey of several decades. We need to get everyone involved in this together, today. If we're not helping figure things out to save money and improve healthcare, we're failing."

On the need for innovation in healthcare: "What we're looking to do now is to take the lead towards population health and towards value-based care, and be pioneers of value-based innovation. In its simplest form, it's is solving problems faster, and frankly, better."

On the cost of innovation: "We're recognizing that if innovation is going to add significant cost to care delivery, it's probably never going to flower. So, cost-based value needs to be part of the equation.

"I'm on a one-man campaign to disabuse people of the idea that medical innovation is necessarily something that adds cost. And it is always easy to track the cost of the development of an innovation. You can figure that out. You can figure out how much it costs to develop something like innovation; but what you can't figure out is how many lives you'll save, or how much cost you'll save in terms of care delivery."

On advocating for the early stages of innovation: "We need support at the most organic stage of innovation. And yet that is the stage at which the industry and the investment communities have fled…And that's where it's difficult — the money we need is the suborganic, or initial-level funding. I hear 'too early, too risky,' all the time. But ideas have to start somewhere.

"So will the investment community stop saying, 'too early, too risky,' stop saying, 'We don't write checks that small?' Because on any given day, we have a barrel full of things that need early-concept money — say, $50,000. We have a bucket-full of things that need $100,000. We have projects that need more money than that, smaller numbers of such projects. That's the pyramid of projects. And that's innovation."

On healthcare's responsibility to innovate: "I believe that the logical crucibles for the type of innovation that will move the needle in healthcare transformation, is typically occurring in healthcare facilities and in research universities. So I believe it’s not only an opportunity, but almost a responsibility. And if you think about it, here we are in a day when all the talk is about clusters. Well, the best way to aggregate smart people is to bring them into gatherings together. We want to find these interdependent communities with nuclei of creative thought."

Click here to read the full interview.

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