The No. 1 obstacle to hospital innovation? 4 execs weigh in

A lack of time, resources and clearly defined governance are some of the biggest hurdles impeding digital innovation in healthcare. Here, four health system executives share what they believe are the biggest obstacles to innovation.

Note: Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and style.

Karen Murphy, PhD, RN. Chief Innovation Officer at Geisinger (Danville, Pa.): The largest obstacles to digital innovation are time and resources. True digital transformation requires a significant amount of time to design and implement. Due to COVID-19, hospital staff currently have little time to work on transformative designs. Timing is also an issue with implementation. Before the pandemic, it took months and years to develop an implementation plan for a digital solution. Now, due to increased demand, we design in hours and weeks. The shortened time frame sometimes leads to less optimal solutions. 

Resources are also in short supply. Workforce shortages throughout all areas in healthcare result in fewer people to do the additional work necessary to effectively execute a digital strategy. The "demand" side of digital innovation is rising; that is certainly a plus. But the necessary "supply" side of time and human resources are not always adequate to meet the need.

Thomas Graham, MD. Chief Innovation and Transformation Officer at Kettering Health (Dayton, Ohio): We can agree upon what is not an obstacle, and that is the volume of data that we can now collect. That puts the onus on what may be the contemporary challenge: the skill of asking the right question. 

Having the best relationship with our data requires the insight to turn information into intelligence and the wisdom to then derive insight. Whether it is related to clinical care, operational efficiency or research inquiry, we must exercise the discipline to determine what question we want to solve first before submerging ourselves in the deep ocean of data that now resides at our fingertips. A century ago, our founder, Charles F. Kettering, stated, "A problem well stated is a problem half solved." This remains true in our digital age. 

Nick Patel, MD. Chief Digital Officer at Prisma Health (Columbia, S.C.): I would say the biggest obstacle to digital innovation is the paucity of proper organizational alignment. There are always pockets of innovation at health systems but they are usually not designed around a unified vision and strategy. This leads to misalignment in priorities and ill-defined governance. Health systems must clearly outline their vision so that they can formulate a multiyear strategy for execution. To avoid the "too many cooks in the kitchen" scenario, the strategy will then inform the proper governance and budget needed to solve important patient needs leveraging next generation innovations.

R. Hal Baker, MD. Chief Digital and Information Officer at WellSpan Health (York, Pa.): Healthcare is appropriately a conservative and risk averse discipline, whereas innovation is all about taking risks and trying something new. Most hospitals are not equipped with an experimental facility where new innovations can be thoroughly tested in authentic settings to work through the inevitable unexpected discoveries. 

Likewise, it is hard to simulate the full complexity of a hospital setting virtually. Therefore, innovations in a hospital must be tested or implemented with great care and careful monitoring along with sensitivity to the pace, complexity and urgency of the day-to-day mission of the hospital. This leads to a slower pace and incremental steps of change instead of giant leaps, as safety remains the primary goal.

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