Actionable innovation: 3 key strategies for healthcare

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Innovation in healthcare isn't just a passing trend. But the industry doesn't want to wait around for the months or years it typically takes to generate adequate data to move forward with development, write David Asch, MD, executive director of the Penn Medicine Center for Innovation in Philadelphia, and Roy Rosin, chief innovation officer at Penn Medicine, in a perspective in The New England Journal of Medicine.

The authors suggest new test methods offer healthcare the data and information they need but in a condensed timeframe, often as little as days or weeks. "New disciplined techniques are being deployed for testing potentially value-producing ideas faster, less expensively and more reliably," they wrote.

Here are three of those techniques.

The vapor test: Sometimes retailers will have a product on their website listed as "out of stock." However, often times that product never existed. Retailers will post images and descriptions of products they have not yet created to see if people will buy them. This approach cuts back on initial costs of designing, sourcing materials, building and creating distribution channels and then selling a product which is not guaranteed to sell. "Vapor tests replace a wishful 'if you build it, they will come' philosophy with the empirical and prescriptive 'if they come, you should build it,'" the authors wrote. However, they warn the vapor test requires "judicious deployment" as it requires deception to carry out.

In one example, a medical student presented the idea of offering patients the option of implanting an intrauterine contraceptive device in the emergency department instead of requiring patients to make a separate visit to the hospital. To conduct the vapor test, physicians told patients, "We may not be able to do it today, but if I can arrange it, would you like the IUD inserted before you leave?"

The authors suggested this approach to innovation quickens change while conserving resources.

The fake front end: Utilizing a fake prototype can help researchers and developers determine the best use cases for a product or model. The authors presented the example of the Palm Pilot developer who carried a wooden version in his pocket to see if, when and how he would want to use it if it were real. His observations guided his design process.

The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia conducted a fake front end test to see if they could reduce admissions for patients with sickle cell disease in the emergency department who had low risk for bacterial infection. Physicians identified which patients could safely be sent home. The fake part of the test was that all patients were still admitted, but researchers gathered data regarding the feasibility of sending those patients home. The hospital's admission rate for these patients dropped 27 percent, according to the authors.

The fake back end: In this approach, researchers create a temporary infrastructure for their innovation and see if people will use it. The idea is the investment made up front for the temporary, low-quality innovation and seeing if people use it is less than investing large sums to present a full-fledged innovation that may not take off.

For example, one study had a maternal-fetal medicine fellow send postpartum women with preeclampsia home with a blood-pressure cuff, and the fellow texted the women each day asking them to send their blood pressure information. The fellow was acting as the automated system researchers might later develop.

"With these techniques, we can test ideas faster and at a lower cost to determine which ones work," the authors wrote. "Collectively, rapid validation techniques make us optimistic about the enduring contribution of healthcare innovation."

More articles on innovation:

Deloitte, Innovation Institute to collaborate for Newport Beach Innovation Lab
Forbes names 10 female-led healthcare technology disruptors to watch
Kaiser Permanente innovation by the numbers

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