Three innovation lessons healthcare leaders can learn from other industries

Yulun Wang, Founder, Chairman, & Chief Innovation Officer, InTouch Health - Print  | 

In Gallup’s most recent survey, nearly three-quarters of employed Americans (73%) say the healthcare system is "in a state of crisis" or "has major problems."

The healthcare industry is facing a multitude of problems — physician burnout, physician shortages, rising cost, restricted access, inconsistent quality, diminishing reimbursement, and so many more that I could spend a lifetime listing them. But the problems are layered and complex, with many solutions (and solution providers) reliant upon each other. Recognizing this, business leaders and innovators, across industries, are looking to bridge the gap, joining traditional healthcare companies in the “race” to be the first to solve these problems – not just in pursuit of a better bottom line, but to ensure the continued success of the U.S. healthcare system.

Titans of industry, such as Amazon, Apple, and Walmart, seem to understand that collaboration is the way forward to solving that problem. What can the rest of us, as healthcare industry leaders who have been operating in the space for decades, learn from their example?

1. Collaborate across industries
Cross-sector collaborators are a powerful force with the ability to change the course of an industry. Manufacturers have successfully worked with the technology and government sectors to build an impactful sustainability movement. Financial services and banking have gone mobile and revolutionized the way we handle transactions. The possibilities for collaboration as a means to transform healthcare are endless, and cross-industry leaders are taking the initiative into their own hands.

A prime case study is the convergence of health and tech. Tech companies are experts in connectivity and solution-development, but there is a critical gap in healthcare industry knowledge to overcome. The healthcare ecosystem is a multifaceted web of patients, providers, health systems, payers, and society at-large. The tech industry’s accomplishments are not as easily transferrable to healthcare. Prescription medicine sales provide one example. While a company may be well-versed in delivering consumer goods such as Band-Aids and toothpaste, moving a product as seemingly simple as a low-grade Tylenol 3 cannot be treated like any other B2C transaction. The need for reimbursement introduces complexity to that transaction by presenting factors like coverage and copays. Pile on privacy and security mandates from HIPAA, and the business of healthcare can quickly become an unnavigable terrain. Increasingly, “outsiders” looking to make their mark on healthcare are waking up to this problem and acquiring healthcare companies who can help them maneuver through the industry’s complex regulatory environment.

Equally, healthcare providers can circumvent some of these cross-sector issues by partnering with technology companies during the research and development process. This practice is part of something called responsible innovation, which in healthcare means inventing patient-centered solutions with the purpose of improving outcomes, quality, cost, and access. By giving healthcare providers a seat at the inventor’s workbench, they can work together with tech companies to create patient-centered solutions that actually solve our larger industry problems.

2. Collaborate within the industry
I am inspired by the openness and willingness of changemakers in other sectors, who are rolling up their sleeves and working together to create a better system of healthcare for tomorrow. But as an industry, we can’t expect those outside of our complicated system to understand how to truly solve our most difficult problems.

As experienced with EHR implementation, even good solutions can fail when implemented poorly. This is a perfect example of what happens when our companies – and the systems and solutions we create – don’t talk to each other. Instead of ending up with useless and counterproductive healthcare “solutions” that waste time, money, and resource, we should be joining forces to building integrated care models that allow us to set ourselves up for success from the beginning.

A commonality between these cross-industry collaborators that are venturing into healthcare is that they are transformers at heart – they also challenge the status quo within their own sectors and verticals to improve business practices such as shopping, communications, ridesharing, and even banking. Each of the five stakeholders in the healthcare industry (patients, providers, health systems, payers, and society) must take a page out of their collective playbook: if we work together, we can rebuild our very broken healthcare system from the inside.

3. Purpose can drive profit
Industry collaboration is not limited to profit-making endeavors.

For instance, the industry is abuzz with the fact that the Amazon, J.P. Morgan and Berkshire Hathaway partnership is not primarily intended to be a profit-making venture. The group has formed to tackle rising healthcare costs internally for their own employees first, which will ultimately be a cost-saving measure. If successful, the idea may very well turn a profit, but it will be a secondary outcome, not the primary goal. Lyft and the American Cancer Society recently announced that they will offer free rides to cancer patients in regions across the U.S. as a way to solve a major problem for patients battling one of the system’s largest barriers: access to care. 23andMe is taking a stand on a social issue by working with Congresswoman Jackie Speier to help tackle the family separation crisis at the border. This effort, aimed at reuniting immigrant families, was born of the desire to serve the community.

These organizations know that society benefits from their expertise and their unique service offerings, so rather than collaborating solely for revenue generation, they are working together for a greater purpose. If we truly want to fix healthcare, we must be willing to embrace this kind of collaboration and encourage all stakeholders in our orbit, including administrators, policy makers, payers, pharmaceutical companies, and more, to do the same.

How can we fix healthcare? There may never be a clean answer, but collaboration seems a wise place to start.

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