How to create a culture of innovation: 6 lessons from Edward Marx

"The great hope in healthcare is innovation," said Edward Marx, CIO of New York City Health & Hospitals Corp., in his keynote address at the Becker's Hospital Review Annual CIO/HIT + Revenue Cycle Summit in Chicago on July 20.

The former CIO of Dallas-based Texas Health Resources and recipient of the 2013 John E. Gall Jr. CIO of the Year Award from CHIME and HIMSS believes innovation is the key to igniting positive, quality change for industrywide improvement. However, it is often discussed in the abstract, and hospitals and health systems may struggle with creating and sustaining innovation to achieve the desired end goal.

Mr. Marx said a good place to start is to define innovation, which can be boiled down to a very simple statement. "Innovation is invention plus execution," he said.

To foster a culture of innovation, CEOs must first make it a priority. Citing 2013 data, Mr. Marx said only approximately 25 percent of CEOs ranked innovation as a top priority. What's more, he said that innovation tends to lag because CIOs themselves aren't very innovative.

This type of change isn't easy, and innovation in and of itself requires time, energy and resources. However, it is imperative to patient care quality and has direct effects on the people hospitals serve.

"Where my heart is in healthcare is how do we innovate to save lives?" Mr. Marx said. "Technology has such potential to save many, many more lives if we can only innovate and impact the quality of care we delivery and the patient safety aspects of that."

Here are six lessons Edward Marx shared to help create and foster that culture to promote growth and transformation.

1. "Encourage your staff to ask why." Mr. Marx said that when he began his CIO position at Texas Health Resources, he challenged employees to question him and ask him why things were done the way they were. "In the culture that we have created in our organizations, people are afraid to ask questions like that," Mr. Marx said. "You have to encourage it."

2. "To be innovative, you must be innovative." A leader can't challenge his or her organization to be innovative if he or she isn't innovative. "I'm always trying to change, otherwise I'll get stuck or comfortable," Mr. Marx said, whether that be trying new electronic devices or learning a new dance. "I started Argentine tango. I was a punk rocker in my youth, why would I do Argentine tango? It's challenging yourself to become more innovative," he said.

3. "Make sure it's cross-generational." One of Mr. Marx's mentors was 30 years old in 2011. He said he purposefully found a mentor from a younger generation because he had so much to learn from someone in that age group regarding trends like social media. "Hire outside the norms. Don't hire people that look like you. That's what we often do because it's comfortable," he said.

4. "I always try to find routines and then I bust them." Routines are not conducive to innovation because they are too familiar, Mr. Marx said. Depending on the pushback resulting from busting routines, hospitals can determine new paths and workflows.

5. "Access external resources." Hospitals and health systems can go to advisory boards to find best practices with corporate exchanges. Mr. Marx said once a year he finds an innovative company outside healthcare and works with them to learn lessons and strategies he can adapt to his own organizations. "If you don't reach out to other companies outside of healthcare, you are retarding your growth," he said.

6. "Hire for innovation." Diversity in the workforce is key to innovation. Conversely, only hiring similar people can be detrimental to innovation, Mr. Marx said. "Don't hire people with IT degrees. Hire people with art degrees, people who think a little differently."

Innovation is imperative to future healthcare success, and it has the capability to truly transform patient care for the better, and IT and hospital leaders have the responsibility to drive this change.

"Encourage innovation. It starts with you," Mr. Marx said. "If you're not talking about it, it's probably not going to happen."

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