'Collaboration is the fuel for innovation,' according to Dr. Sylvia Romm, Atlantic Health's 1st innovation chief

As Atlantic Health System's first chief innovation officer, Sylvia Romm, MD, is focused on building upon the Morristown, N.J.-based system's existing "innovative spirit and culture of inquiry."

In fact, far from feeling daunted by the prospect of forging her own path for an entirely new role, she told Becker's Hospital Review that she is eager for the "tremendous opportunity" that comes with the responsibility.

"I feel fortunate because I am able to stand on the shoulders of giants, since the nearly 17,000 individuals that come to work at Atlantic Health every day already do so with the ambition of discovering innovative solutions to the healthcare challenges of tomorrow," said Dr. Romm, who served as vice president of clinical transformation at American Well prior to joining Atlantic Health in June.

Here, Dr. Romm discusses her goals for the new position, and how her experience in the startup world will help her achieve them.

Editor's note: Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Question: What are your primary goals and priorities for your new role as head of Atlantic Health System's innovation department?

Dr. Sylvia Romm: One of my first goals is to continue to harness and support that culture that has already delivered new inventions and processes, and enable it to grow by breaking down barriers and forging innovative relationships.

As a physician, I'm also excited to be working in a health system again, because I know how important it is to understand the "boots on the ground" view of care innovation. An idea might sound good, but unless it improves the lives of our patients, it probably isn't the type of innovation we are looking for.

Finally, Atlantic Health System is also distinctive in the extent to which it has looked to collaboration with external partners to improve access and affordability. I am a strong believer that collaboration is the fuel for innovation, and I am committed to making sure we have a full tank!

Q: Can you talk about an innovation-related initiative that you have already implemented since taking on the role, or are in the process of implementing?

SR: From my experience working as an operator in the startup world, I've found that when I want to build something new, I first need to see what I have, and then identify what I need before moving forward. Having only been part of Atlantic Health System for a short time, I am still identifying and exploring all of the ways Atlantic Health System is innovating.

I would certainly anticipate that areas such as AHa!, our systemwide idea incubator that channels ideas and concepts from our team members into real-world products and solutions, will continue to develop. However, that's just a piece of what we are doing. As evidenced by our annual Research and Innovation Day, as well as the recent NCORP grant we were awarded from the NCI, inspirational groups are active throughout our system.

It's my responsibility to make sure we are taking advantage of every opportunity to innovate, either within the framework that's already in place at Atlantic Health System, or to work with our team members to break new ground and challenge long-standing structures and practices to make sure we're always pursuing opportunities. As an entrepreneur, I know that organizations must be nimble and flexible when trying to break new ground. I'm looking forward to both sharing my experience and learning from my new team members.

Q: What are some tangible things hospitals and health systems can to foster an innovation-focused mindset across the organization?

SR: I believe that health systems need to learn from one another to move quickly and safely toward advances in healthcare. In a similar vein, health systems must recognize that innovators and entrepreneurs that are outside the health system space are also working hard to improve healthcare, and that success in this area means standing shoulder to shoulder with other organizations that are interested in working hard to develop real solutions.

Often, the best ideas don't come from one institution; they are created when dedicated people from two or more institutions decide to work together to solve tough problems. In healthcare, where problems are extremely complex and people's lives are at stake, much of the innovation I have seen comes from ideas that have already been tested in one environment, but are then used in a new way or with new partners — that's where you can see real leaps forward, tackling new challenges and solving problems.

More articles on innovation:
Lehigh Valley's new partnership will develop high-tech solutions for physician burnout
Dr. Daniel Durand, LifeBridge chief innovation officer, on why 'innovation will never end'
How to create digital tools people will actually use

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