'Innovation is ingrained': Why these 6 health systems were named Fortune's most innovative

Health systems that ranked near the top of Fortune's Most Innovative Companies list told Becker's they develop innovative ideas from clinicians that will help patients quickly.

"Innovation is ingrained in Mayo Clinic's DNA," said Charles Bruce, MD, chief innovation officer of Mayo Clinic in Florida. The Rochester, Minn.-based organization was the top health system on the 2023 list, coming in at No. 21.

"It goes back to a quote from Charles Mayo, one of our founding members, who said, 'If we excel in anything, it is our capacity for translating idealism into action,'" Dr. Bruce noted.

He pointed to innovations starting with the discovery of cortisone at Mayo Clinic in 1929 to the 2020s, when Mayo Clinic Platform launched to leverage data and artificial intelligence for better treatment and diagnosis. Since 1986, when Mayo started keeping records, more than 7,000 inventors have disclosed 10,000 technologies (of which 4,000 have been licensed to companies) and 274 startups have formed.

Nearly three years ago, the health system started the Mayo Clinic Innovation Exchange, which evaluates ideas no matter where they come from, whether it be a nurse at the clinic or a startup in Spain, Dr. Bruce said. In that time, more than 60 companies and 1,500 Mayo staff members have engaged with the exchange.

"This really important asset represents a front door to Mayo Clinic in an effort to help triage and navigate and bring these ideas to benefit people as quickly as possible," he said.

Cleveland Clinic Innovations, an arm of the health system that ranked No. 26 on the magazine's list, similarly develops ideas from caregivers.

"Since our founding in 1921, innovation has been an integral part of Cleveland Clinic's mission, propelling us to continuously search for new ways to enhance care for patients," said D. Geoffrey Vince, PhD, executive director of Cleveland Clinic Innovations. "For the last 102 years, advances made here have revolutionized care delivery around the world."

He mentioned recent innovations including breast and ovarian cancer vaccines licensed in 2020, the first deep brain stimulation for stroke recovery performed in 2017, and a novel remote heart monitoring device developed in 2014.

"Innovative healthcare organizations unlock the power of every employee and every patient to provide a better experience that also improves care," said Roberta Schwartz, executive vice president and chief innovation officer at Houston Methodist, which ranked 40th on the Fortune list. "The expansion of virtual care in the inpatient and outpatient settings and the use of artificial intelligence for predictive analytics and care pathways have given our care teams focused time with patients on issues most important to their well-being."

"Proud but never satisfied" is a common saying at No. 71 ranked Kansas City, Kan.-based University of Kansas Health System, said President and CEO Bob Page.

"Every area, from our inpatient units to our communications team, demonstrates innovation in the way they do their work," he said. "Most recently, our surgical services team reimagined the perioperative process. The result — a more efficient patient and staff experience which enhanced quality and safety."

At No. 76, Cincinnati Children's was the only children's hospital on the list. A spokesperson pointed to the work being done over the past 10 years at Cincinnati Children’s Innovation Ventures, including 1,774 new invention disclosures, 1,885 patent applications filed, 628 patents issued, 230 licenses executed, 15 active startups, and 117 commercialized products and tools.

"We are not a traditional bench-research type of academic medical center. We tend to invest in things that are more translational," said Albert Wright Jr., president and CEO of Morgantown, W.V.-based WVU Medicine, which came in at No. 90. "If I'm walking to my car and the news reporter asks, 'Why did you spend money on this?' I need to be able to translate it: 'We're going to do things West Virginians and the surrounding areas we serve will almost immediately benefit from.'"

He cited his health system's adoption and study of high- and low-frequency focused ultrasound to wash away plaque in the brain of Alzheimer's patients, treat glioblastoma, and decrease cravings for opioids or alcohol. WVU Medicine also developed a robotic aortic valve repair and replacement method that is less invasive than its predecessor.

"Whether you look at that focused ultrasound or the robotic surgery, you're taking advanced technologies, coupling those with brilliant physicians, and you're doing things that are immediately translational at the bedside," he said.

He also pointed to the health system's new Peak Health insurance plan, which uses the Epic Tapestry EHR module that rolls medical records and claims together. He called it the "iPhone of an integrated payer-provider" for its interoperability.

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