Innovating in healthcare today — 4 key insights from industry leaders

The power of innovation can drive successful organizations forward in tackling many of the healthcare industry's obstacles and elevate patient care to extraordinary levels. However, there are many layers to consider in healthcare innovation such as deciding where to best allocate resources and the potential return on investment. During a panel discussion at Becker's Hospital Review 3rd Annual Health IT + Revenue Cycle conference in Chicago Sept. 21, industry leaders shared their organization's strategy for innovating and how professionals within the healthcare sector should approach innovation in the wake of many changes.

1. Evaluate the risk and be willing to readjust expectations. Innovation is often a balancing act, involving some level of risk. The question organizations should consider is how much risk they are able to take on to solve a problem at hand. Jeff Nelson, CEO and president of Jacksonville, Fla.-based Healogics, a U.S. provider of wound care services, said, "You have to empower people to go and take chances and understand things are not always going to work."

Organizations, however, should avoid overlooking a project's deficiencies in reaching a goal, and should make the necessary decisions to reinvest if an innovation is not heading in a direction to reach a set goal.  

2. Establish metrics before diving into action. Setting metrics to succeed in reaching a goal is essential, as vague benchmarks could impede leaders' ability to assess if a solution is working. Mr. Nelson said, "Generally people sense a problem, jump into a solution and then go back to their metrics. [You have to ask] what problem you are trying to solve, what would success looks like to solve that and [then] that will give you your metric."

Staff members should be well-versed in organizational structures and goals so leaders spend their time considering viable solutions and avoid spending their energies sifting through proposals that an organization cannot realistically carry out.  

"You need to have structured submissions [from staff members]. Systems and structure around where you need solutions in your health system will help people talk themselves out of a bad idea," said Diane Stover-Hopkins, principal consultant of innovation strategy for South Bend, Ind.-based Beacon Health System and DuPont Sustainable Solutions and co-author of Wake Up and Smell the Innovation. Ms. Stover-Hopkins added learning can be an appropriate metric, as well, as ongoing learning is a crucial element of innovation. "If we did an innovation project that failed, we walked away smarter," she said.

3. Prioritize based on organizational needs. In healthcare, technological advancements are flooding the marketplace, and leaders may be tempted to invest in a host of platforms. The many possibilities may detract from an organization's ability to solve one or two core issues, according to Robert Budman, MD, CMIO of Atlanta-based Piedmont Healthcare. The crux of any successful endeavor is contingent on innovators' ability to assess a problem that may be stifling an organization's progress in reaching their goals.

Dr. Budman said, in innovation, leaders should prioritize: "You can't do 100 things, but you can pick two or three."

4. Reframe how you view innovation. For most organizations, the overall goal of innovation is to improve the lives of patients communities serve. Looking at innovation through that lens allows leaders to understand the importance of encouraging innovation and seeking it out to drive their organization forward. "One of the ways you can think about innovation is looking at things differently," said Jake Dorst, CIIO of Truckee, Calif.-based Tahoe Forest Hospital. "What does it look like in a moment of struggle? [Then] there is a desire for progress and that is where the magic of innovation happens."

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