Energizing community-based health systems with innovation opportunities

As patient care is transformed with pressures on margins and disruptive outside players, many health systems are struggling with how to energize their workforce to make the necessary changes.

The industry is experiencing consolidation through mergers in an effort to gain synergies from reduced overhead expense and market leverage. At the same time, leadership is tasked with trying to create a culture of innovation while also managing the chaos. Many health system leaders are tasked with trying to find ways to get hospital staff engaged with leadership to transform care delivery. In every instance, innovation plays a key role in navigating the new paradigm.

Much like teaching hospitals, which provide medical education and training to future and current health professionals, The Innovation Institute (a for-profit LLC owned by non-profit health systems) provides health system doctors, nurses, and other staff members with the tools, support, and the feedback they need as innovators. The Innovation Institute was launched five years ago as a collaborative with six non-profit health systems to advance innovation. At its “core,” the Innovation Institute is a healthcare incubator. As an incubator, the Innovation Institute must glean the best ideas from front-line physicians and staff members so the solutions or products can be advanced and taken to market. The strategic purpose for the Innovation Institute is to advance innovation and seek new revenue streams. In its fifth year of operation, the Innovation Institute has revenues of $265 million and EBIDA of approximately $20M.

Teaching Hospitals versus Community-Based Health Systems

Teaching hospitals often serve as research institutes and have an affiliation with a medical school. The community-based health systems that are owners of the Innovation Institute have a relationship with our incubator, called the “Innovation Lab.” The Innovation Lab provides innovation facilitators for each of the six health systems to energize physicians, nurses, and other staff members to innovate as a part of their daily routine. Unlike teaching or research hospitals that focus on specific research that can be converted to intellectual property without a clear path to commercialization, the Innovation Lab is a “needs-based” or “problems-based” model. We work with frontline employees who identify problems in need of solutions. The solutions are evaluated, protected, incubated and ultimately commercialized. Even simple solutions can generate significant results. Embracing innovation builds morale and revives employees’ and physicians’ creativity, intelligence, and tenacity. Physicians are scientists at heart, and are always looking for ways to improve care. In today’s health care environment, tapping innovation provides an outlet for physicians and clinicians to grow while advancing and improving patient care.

Just as medical students and residents ask a lot of questions, provide fresh eyes and ears, and contribute to new cures and treatment therapies, we encourage all our health system clinicians and staff to also look at their work with fresh eyes and ears, and embrace change and innovation. Our Innovation Lab team (on staff at each of these health systems) gives employees and physicians a place where they can share thoughts and creative ideas, and receive feedback and encouragement to follow through. This type of communication and support creates a vibrant and healthy culture.

Dissemination of an innovative culture comes from the top down. When leadership approaches their staff members and communicate that improving performance and transforming care are foundational strategies in today’s environment, it resonates. Community-based health systems tend to be risk averse. Innovation is vital to transforming care and finding solutions. Inventors who bring ideas forward are rewarded with a significant share of net proceeds which far exceeds what they would get at an academic center. Also, there is no cost to the inventor for bringing forth their ideas. The Innovation Lab bares all the cost of evaluation, product development, and commercialization. The Lab is a safe place for inventors to bring their ideas. Most inventors are very passionate about the ideas they bring forth and most have stories behind the idea submission. Ideas range from medical devices to digital solutions, sensors, HIT, apps, and other products.

The Innovation Institute helps the health systems fulfill their vision, which is often to provide high quality care to their patients while sustaining financial viability. We strive to help transform current health care delivery into more innovative and integrated systems of care. Two of our subsidiary company leaders explain how best to engage health system teams for maximum benefit.

Seth Lee, president of our subsidiary Summit Talent Group says that a "top-down" approach to engagement is not always the right path to creating a culture of innovation; the people who are closest, who do the job every day, are the ones who best understand the resolution to problems, and also have the informal "vision" about a permanent fix to a particular problem. He said, “Senior leadership can facilitate innovation and remove obstacles by providing a well communicated framework and tools for employees to bring their permanent fix to the level of a greater solution, potentially scalable and best-case scenario, brought to the commercial market.”

Corinne Sinnigen, vice president at FutureSense, says that cultural changes or initiatives do best when there is someone who takes ownership of the initiative who dedicates himself/herself to encouraging and inspiring others to be innovative and solve problems, and one who drives opportunities to share the successes across the organization. She said, “While at a strategy session with one of our health system clients, we talked about the importance of showcasing successes and how that sends a message to people that an innovative response to challenges and problems is highly desired and recognized in the organization. Plus, showcasing the success of others allows folks to learn about how to tackle situations that they can replicate.”

In the short time since the Innovation Institute launched operations, we have received over two thousand idea submissions. The Innovation Institute is experiencing success with our health system member owners and we are seeing a culture of innovation and engagement with the health systems. The Innovation Institute currently has approximately 280 ideas in evaluation and product development, and five products have gone to market via license agreements. We have one start-up company, two development agreements, one reseller agreement, and two crowdfunding capital raises. And we are preparing for much more during these transformative times. If you are interested in learning more about the Innovation Institute, please visit our website at www.ii4change.com.

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