How SCL Health's Peter Kung promotes innovation among staff

Peter Kung has served as system vice president of innovation and virtual health at Broomfield, Colo.-based SCL Health for more than four years. 

At the health system, which comprises of eight hospitals, four safety net clinics and more than 190 ambulatory service locations, Mr. Kung manages a robust team of innovators. 

Below, Mr. Kung describes why he is focused on creating consumer-oriented solutions that improve access and experience and what he does at SCL Health to promote innovation. 

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

Question: As system vice president of innovation, what has been your most proud moment or accomplishment? 

Peter Kung: I find that innovation centers are often situated on the edges of the organization and, as a result, these innovation centers can encounter limited success in bringing impactful initiatives and change to scale across the organization. However, at SCL Health we have embedded innovation and led the required change for innovation to be adopted system wide; and in a little less than four years at SCL Health we have been able to implement 15 enterprise initiatives, dozens of pilot programs and launch several organizational-wide innovation challenges. 

Our biggest accomplishment is our organization’s ability to create a swim lane throughout the enterprise that embraces innovation. Rather than taking a stab here and there, at SCL Health we are taking numerous new ideas and putting them into operations at scale.

Q: How do you promote innovation on your team and within your health system? 

PK: In order to get innovation into the DNA of an organization, you need strong executive leadership, collaboration across departments and engagement down to front line team members. By having a strong partnership throughout the health system, you can really promote and embed innovation. 

At the same time, SCL Health has a bottom-up strategy where we have innovation challenges to surface opportunities from the front-line. We believe that the best ideas come from teams that are at the forefront of delivering patient care. For each of the last 3 years, we have funded up to $250,000 on ideas that surface from our care delivery teams and give them the room to implement their ideas. This has fostered empowerment across the organization and allowed any employee to actively participate in advancing innovation.

Of particular focus for the innovation challenges is on delivering care "outside the four walls" of our physical locations, including social determinants of health. We have funded initiatives such as Food Farmacy, Community Health Workers, Pharmocogenomics and Meds-to-Bed, and a unique fall prevention program.

Q: Looking five to 10 years ahead, where do you see the role of Innovation heading? How will changes in healthcare affect your role? 

PK: Currently, healthcare leaders are appreciating and taking seriously changes with what patients expect from us as they interact and form relationships with companies outside our industry. It is my opinion that the only thing that moves faster than technological change is consumer expectations.

At the same time, we need to consider changes from CMS in the coming years; what impact is going to happen to the payer and pharmaceutical players in the ecosystem; and the force private industry and capital are bringing.

As it is difficult to predict how these factors will pan out in five to 10 years, it is clear what we, as a health system, have to do; deliver value in outcomes and cost, provide an integrated, easily accessible, and seamless experience, and transform the relationship with our patients that re-incorporates "humanity and connection" than mere transaction or clicks.

There will be a role for innovation in our industry because we need to accelerate and tackle these currently "hard and stubborn" dilemmas in transformative ways versus our currently acceptable pace of incremental progression — our industry and patients cannot wait that long. Moreover, I do believe that impact of innovation within our industry will be more about seamless integration than invention.

Q: What has been one innovation that you implemented to improve patient experience?

PK: When it comes to access and experience, SCL Health has recently launched a program that opens up 90 percent of our physicians' schedules in our Denver region for open and direct online scheduling (expanding to all our regions by end of 2019). This is coupled with the ability to also digitally check-in before the patient arrives, fill out any necessary paperwork, and pay any co-pays and bills which has made a powerful combination of new functionality to improve customer experience.

More articles on innovation:
CHLA's Omkar Kulkarni shares 3 core functions of a successful chief innovation officer
Oregon health innovation center receives $8M to expand tech support
City of Hope's chief digital officer on crafting a strategy that avoids 'digitization for the sake of digitization'

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