3 things the most innovative health systems do

3 big-picture things that set three organizations apart from the rest when it comes to the art of innovation in healthcare

To fit the standard definition of "innovative," organizations in any industry have to introduce new ideas or be original and creative in thinking — and in the constantly changing industry that is healthcare, hospitals and health systems of all sizes fit this description.

But innovation in healthcare can and does go beyond producing a new product or leveraging technology in a new way. The following are three big-picture things that set three organizations apart from the rest when it comes to the art of innovation in healthcare.

Centralize innovation in the mission

The most innovative health systems today put innovation front and center in their organizational values. Philadelphia-based Jefferson Health System, for example, has put the definition of innovation right in its mission statement: "We will re-imagine health, health education and discovery to create unparalleled value."

And the academic health system doesn't just talk about it; its officials restructured the health system as well as its medical and other colleges to create "One Jefferson" — one integrated organization reporting to Stephen Klasko, MD, MBA, as president and CEO of Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson Health System. Dr. Klasko further elevated innovation and philanthropy to become core pillars supporting the mission, in addition to the traditional pillars of academics and health care. As a result, Jefferson is one of the few academic health centers to elevate innovation as a core mission. The boards (which had been separate) were also merged with the committees matching the four pillars.

"By creating a model where innovation and philanthropy pillars are on the same level [as the academic and clinical pillars], it creates a totally different mindset," says Dr. Klasko. And soon, the system will push this level of equality even further: Half of the incentives for the pillars' leaders will be based on how the other pillars perform.

Reimagining the layout of the entire system to put innovation on the same level as the more traditional functions of an academic health system, Jefferson ensures innovation will be supported and sustained in the same way with the same enthusiasm.

Rethink the practice of medicine

The Mayo Clinic, established more than 100 years ago, all started from innovating the practice of medicine by establishing an integrated group practice. "It was the seminal innovation of the Mayo brothers," says Nicholas LaRusso, MD, the founding medical director of the Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation. "At the time it was brilliantly innovative."

Now, as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is putting more pressure on clinicians to become more connected, patient-centered and work in teams, the time has come to innovate in that space once again.

"We're focused more on that now," Dr. LaRusso says of changing the healthcare delivery model. "Whether or not you support the ACA, it has catalyzed what will be momentous change in the delivery and business model of healthcare, which will ultimately shake out for the good."

Jefferson is another system focused heavily in this area of healthcare innovation. Dr. Klasko calls the way medical students are selected and trained a "cult," with three main biases: competition, autonomy and hierarchy. "You can't ask physicians to spend 12 years in a situation where competition and individuality are rewarded and then wonder why they're not better members of a high-powered team," he says.

To change the game here, Dr. Klasko's medical school became one of the first to admit students not only based on academic accomplishments but on emotional intelligence as well, borrowing strategies from the airline industry, where pilots are increasingly recruited on emotional intelligence as well as performance. This new program even partnered with an offshoot of Wharton Business School, a company that measures emotional intelligence, to aid in the endeavor.

In addition to changing selection criteria, Jefferson is also changing the way it trains physicians.

"We put art into the curriculum of medicine," Dr. Klasko explained in a keynote speech earlier this year. Jefferson offers what it calls Art of Attending workshops that are designed to sharpen the observation skills of future physicians and improve their ability to observe and infer, rather than just "see." Program participants are asked to interpret the art by telling the story being told in the painting. According to Dr. Klasko, this helps find the physicians who will not only listen to patients but infer a diagnosis from what they're hearing, thus optimizing care.

By rethinking how medical students and physicians are trained, Jefferson is innovating and helping create "physicians of the future."

Teach and spread innovation

Beyond building new solutions and physicians of the future, truly innovative health systems don't keep it to themselves: They teach innovation to others and attempt to actively spread it throughout the industry.

The Mayo Clinic attempts to teach innovation to people both inside the system and the industry at large. "We make an effort to teach innovation in the organization so that, over time, all 60,000 employees at every level will understand to a greater degree the importance of innovation," says Dr. LaRusso.

For example, Mayo Clinic established the CoDE (connect, design and enable) program, which offers funding to 10 in-house groups each year to create solutions to specific challenges. Mayo also supports and spreads innovation to employees through online courses, workshops and brainstorming sessions, Dr. LaRusso says.

In addition to providing opportunities to employees, The Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation's annual Transform symposium invites employees from Mayo as well as other professionals from multiple states and even other countries to discuss and be educated on innovation in healthcare. And, Dr. LaRusso, along with two colleagues from Mayo Clinic, recently released a book, "Think Big, Start Small, Move Fast," that details how the Mayo Clinic sustains innovation, to further spread the concept and execution of innovation to the public at large.

In addition to teaching and talking about innovation as a concept, truly innovative health systems — like UPMC in Pittsburgh — spread their own innovations to the industry at large.

"We create a solution with the mindset of not just solving for our needs, but looking to really extend this to other facilities outside of UPMC," says Rasu Shrestha, MD, MBA, interim president of the UPMC Technology Development Center and chief innovation officer of UPMC. So, even though technology developed at the TDC addresses UPMCs own clinical and operational "pain points," as Dr. Shrestha calls them, they are likely to be useful to other systems, since ultimately the goal is to "develop technology to address healthcare's greatest challenges." For example, UPMC is planning to sell analytics software it developed in-house to others in the industry.

Other systems have the similar plans: Columbia, Md.-based MedStar Health has been creating new technologies in its Institute for Innovation and spreading them to the industry since 2009.

By making innovation part of the mission, helping rethink the practice of medicine and spreading innovation to employees and the industry at large, other health systems can become innovation hubs and help advance all aspects of the healthcare industry.

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