HSS chief innovation officer: The importance of integrating culture, novelty and commercialization into all service lines

New York City-based Hospital for Special Surgery named Leonard Achan its chief innovation officer and senior vice president of innovation and business development in February 2016.

Since then, Mr. Achan has been instrumental in the hospital's efforts to improve patient care and experiences. Below, Mr. Achan describes his experience as chief innovation officer and how he anticipates his role to evolve.

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

Question: As chief innovation officer, what has been your proudest moment or accomplishment? 

Leonard Achan: In my role as chief innovation officer, I am most proud of the increasing integration of the thinking and culture of innovation and commercialization into all services and verticals throughout the organization in the form of shared leadership, shared responsibility and shared advocacy. This is shared by everyone from our CEO and executives to our staff and inventors who understand that they play a critical role in innovation. This means that while many organizations succeed to create a department or division for innovation, we have continuously moved towards innovation being everywhere for over a century. The problem with creating a division would be just that: being divided. Instead, our culture and model support the fact that we are and have always been an innovative organization. Now, putting the people, structure and processes together to make that culture more easily digestible, approachable and scalable is something we should all be proud of.
 
Q: How do you promote innovation on your team and within your hospital? 

LA: Our team is very intrapreneurial. We encourage creativity and flexibility across all our teams because as enablers for our clients, partners and inventors, we require time to think and recharge. We spend a lot of time together as a team and with our innovators communicating, translating and partnering. Our organization has a long history of being innovative leaders in our field and cutting edge. The question is, how do we share that with the world at scale so that anyone can benefit from our expertise, even if they never heard of us. We spend a lot of time planning how to carefully and thoughtfully move ideas, knowledge, know-how and our expertise into the market to benefit patients. This commitment to our patients and consumers of the future is enough to drive us, and that is palpable in our environment.
 
Q: Looking five to 10 years ahead, where do you see your role as chief innovation officer heading? How will changes in healthcare affect your role? 

LA: I believe that innovation in the provider-based healthcare systems today means a lot of different things and that this role confusion or mistaken identity for individuals who share the chief innovation officer title will continue to be a problem over the next five years.

Innovation can mean a leader whose day-to-day management involves improving operational efficiencies. It may mean a venture arm being formed whereby strategic or passive cash investments in all stages of companies is the directive. In other environments, it’s a focus on technology transfer and licensing. I often think of my charge as having a double bottom line that includes our mission and commitment to serve patients and the community through ideation, and by doing this, we have the secondary benefit of commercialization revenue to continue to support those efforts. While innovation may mean “all of the above” here at HSS, I do believe that the investment sector within the provider organizations will become more developed and sophisticated as thought leadership groups, like the Strategic Ventures Group that I am a member of, continue to develop best practices for supporting the future healthcare ecosystem with investments. I also see the focus on what is today called innovation evolving to become more focused on commercialization, which to me is very different.

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