The successful innovation agenda

Jim Carroll had a very intriguing post at World Health Care Blog last week on health care innovation.  The post is a keynote at a conference in 2020.  His reflections provide insight to the ten biggest changes in health care since 2008.  The changes are drastic.  They’re innovative.  They’re also exactly where we need to go.

Coming back to the present, the changes Carroll writes of can form a very interesting innovation agenda:

  1. Move to a system of preventative care.
  2. Enable virtual care through bio-connectivity.
  3. Embrace Health 2.0.
  4. Improve the management of change within the health care organization.
  5. Provide service in the health care environment.
  6. Connect every device.
  7. Utilize the cloud and its power.
  8. Deliver medical knowledge to providers as needed.
  9. Ensure the system can handle ever-increasing scientific velocity.
  10. Build optimism, always optimism.

Does your organization have an innovation agenda?  Has your organization made innovation a foundational pillar for future success?  Does your organization’s definition of innovation include more than buying the latest and greatest technology?

A faltering economy makes now a wow time to get started.  After all, the pressure is on to get the ship in order.  It’s not just a time to drastically cut costs, it’s also a time to find opportunity.

Daniel Roth at Wired writes:

With the world’s economies apparently snowballing into a deep recession, it feels uncomfortably Pollyannish to see signs of hope. But for the bravest inventors and entrepreneurs, conditions are ideal to pounce on a business opportunity. In periods of economic turmoil, people are hungry and work cheap, and entrenched companies often concentrate on in-house cost-cutting instead of exploring new markets, which can explode with the next turn of the business cycle.

Here is why:

This doesn’t mean that big new ideas emerge because of turmoil—in fact, the data shows no relationship between major breakthroughs and economic conditions. But the benefit of a global money drought is that competition tends to vaporize (ed: in hospitals, vaporize should read contract). And for some, the stress of tough times has an amazing way of concentrating the mind on the way forward.

But the opportunity-seeking organization can’t enter the innovation game willy-nilly.  It must be a concerted effort with defined measures of success.  Measuring innovation can be difficult.  As PSFK recently highlighted, the Boston Consulting Group has published a report seeking to answer the question, “(H)ow effective is the push to innovate when there are no real measures of its rewards?”

From BCG:

Companies undermeasure, measure the wrong things, or, in some cases, don’t measure at all, because they are under the mistaken impression that innovation is somehow different from other business processes and can’t or shouldn’t be measured. The potential cost of this error – in terms of poorly allocated resources, squandered opportunities, and bad decision making generally – is substantial.

BCG recommends implementing an “innovation-to-cash” process to ensure success (read about it here, pdf).

The key, as with other initiatives, is accountability.  BGG:

Make innovation a central concern to your top people by tying a substantial part of their compensation to it. Don’t pretend that people will make innovations, by definition a long-term pursuit, a priority when virtually all of their pay is tied to meeting either next quarter’s numbers or some vague and far-off target they can barely influence.

It’s an innovator’s market.  Approach it deliberately.  Do so intelligently.

Extricate, Communicate, Innovate

Think of the possibilities if we could do this within a hospital:

Imagine a global corporation – maybe a software company or an accounting-consulting firm – in which people at all levels and positions could interconnect and network together, and then solve problems together. A company with an internal intranet containing an internal Facebook, blogs, work logs, etc. fully searchable by anyone else in the company. Perhaps employees anywhere in the world could connect in any way they needed to: video conference instantly from their laptops, or leave video messages for each other.

If all the talent in the company could connect easily, that could bring enormous innovation acceleration. Problem solving could be far more efficient. Maybe David in the office in Singapore has already solved a problem now facing new person Carly in the office in Boston? What if Carly could type in a few key words and learn that David dealt with the same issues last month?

While I’ve heard of companies trying to better connect their workforces through intranet applications, I haven’t heard of too many turning all or most of the process over to all employees, especially the younger generation (but please comment and tell me who is doing this if you know).

The first company that achieves this extreme interconnectivity would instantly have tremendous leverage against competitors from an enormous boost in productivity and innovation.

Connect:  Extricate!  Communicate!  Innovate!

Encourage employees to solve problems by connecting and empowering them.  Remove traditional barriers (I work on the 7th floor, I work in Radiology, I’m a nurse) and allow innovation from below: give employees the tools to communicate with each other and access to actionable data.  This challenging time is not one in which to exert more control; for it will be the free organization that will prosper.

Open Innovation

Formalizing getting out of health care: Open Innovation.


The term can be broadly defined as the process by which an organization seeks ideas and expertise outside company walls. Under this concept, it is argued that a company cannot and should not rely solely on its own research, but will benefit by engaging individuals outside the company to further innovation and business goals. Additionally, under this concept, businesses also look for opportunities outside of the company for internal inventions not used within the firm’s business. Open innovation is the opposite of “closed innovation,” the term broadly used to define companies that make limited use of external knowledge and limit the use of internal knowledge outside the company.

The goodness:

Additionally, research has found that companies that do best in a tough economy are those that innovate and are open to outside ideas. The only way to do this affordably is through open innovation. Now more than ever, companies need to innovate and do it more efficiently by focusing on the most efficient use of corporate resources. It enables companies to have their employees focus on the most important tasks while outsourcing for additional ideas and input. Open Innovation also enables a company to do more with its current budget or cut budgets without compromising innovation. It can also lead to more innovative products that can be brought to market more quickly than in using traditional methods.

Again, leave (but come back soon) health care!

Hero redux: Innovate!

You may have read this.

Here’s more:

Memorial Hospital and Health System of South Bend, Indiana is celebrating a long string of successes at building innovation and R&D into day-to-day operations. Hospital CEO Phil Newbold explains, “Healthcare is one of the only industries left that hasn’t embraced innovation. Yet it can lead to improved patient compliance and outcomes. Our ultimate goal is for our surrounding community to become the healthiest in America. Building a team of innovative problem solvers at Memorial is the key.”

They even utilize the Tom Peters WOW Project methodology.

Ahhh, heaven on Earth.

Getting over the hump

MyRapidMD is a cell phone service that allows first responders access to all of your important medical information in an emergency situation.  It seems like a great idea.  Here’s an article all about the service at the Los Angeles Times.

But the service is plagued by a problem common amongst health care innovation: slow adoption.

This is what’s holding MyRapidMD back according to the LAT: “The company has to persuade first responders across the country to check cellphones as a matter of policy.”

EMRsChecklistsInnovation culture.  All plagued by slow adoption for various reasons.

An oft-used sports analogy has athletes, coaches, and reporters speaking of “getting over the hump,” a moment when the worst is over and success is imminent.

It’s not too simplistic to reduce the problems of health care innovation to slow adoption—whether it’s steep implementation costs, over regulation, or the organization’s culture (etc.).

The new idea isn’t the tough part of the process.  Getting over the hump is the true obstacle.

The Innovation Café, best innovation center yet

New hero: Phillip Newbold, CEO of Memorial Hospital in South Bend, IN, and the self-described “champion of innovation” at the hospital.  The hospital’s website is Quality of Life dot org, tremendous!

See previous posts on innovation centers here and here and here and here.

The Wall Street Journal brings news of the coolest innovation center yet:

The Innovation Café is an unusual teaching laboratory created by Philip A. Newbold, the veteran chief executive of this midsize community hospital and health system. He converted a failed delicatessen into a venue where staffers and outsiders can learn to craft new ideas.


It was a tour of an innovation training center for Whirlpool staffers that sparked the establishment of his teaching lab. He persuaded his employer to become the first U.S. community hospital with an innovation research-and-development budget. The board committed up to 1% of annual revenue for innovation activities. That equals about $4 million a year. The hospital ended up spending just $195,000 in 2005, $622,000 in 2006 and $711,000 in 2007 on innovation efforts such as venture start-up costs and staff training. But the increase in related operating profit was as much as three times the annual expenditure.

Other cool stuff from Mr. Newbold: visits other innovative businesses, rewards staff for “good tries,” developed private label health drink through strategic partnership, worked with IDEO, developed a cryo tank, and shares his innovation ideas with others in the health care field.

You have to try stuff to find winners

Jen McCabe Gorman passed along a link to a video via Twitter Tuesday.  It’s a Modern Healthcare highlight reel of the Rocky Mountain Roundtable 2008.  The theme of the short footage is generally about bettering wellness prevention and chronic disease management.

Reed Tuckson, executive vice president and chief of medical affairs at UnitedHealth Group, emphasized community solutions, especially community-based health centers for all patients.

Dr. Tuckson’s talk focused on a four-step approach to improving prevention efforts and disease management:

1. Better leadership

2. Better strategic planning

3. Support research

4. Integrate prevention into clinical care through IT

All good points.  However, his quote about step two is bothersome.  Dr. Tuckson said, “We gotta get better strategic planning, we play around with prevention. ‘I heard a good idea the other day, let’s try that.’  That’s foolishness.  We need data, information that’s locally specific that says ‘here are the problems in our zip code and here are things we need to get at.'”

If trying new ideas is foolishness, fools are what we should aspire to be.

Granted, planning around prevention would improve through locally gathered data.  It would tell us a community’s greatest needs and then we would apply proven methods to address them.  That’s fantastic.  And some day it may work like that.

But varying needs will require solutions of many different feathers.  How do we find such solutions?  When researchers, doctors, public health officials, citizens, patients, etc. say, “I heard a good idea the other day, let’s try that.”

Tom Peters:

If Randomness Rules then your only defense is the so-called “law of large numbers”—that is, success follows from tryin’ enough stuff so that the odds of doin’ something right tilt your way; in my speeches I declare that the only thing I’ve truly learned “for sure” in the last 40 years is “Try more stuff than the other guy”—there is no poetic license here, I mean it.

You have to try stuff to find winners.

It’s wonderful to hear an executive from a private insurer pushing these ideas.  But throwing out the engine (good ideas) that will create innovative solutions to solve our oppressing health care issues is unwise.

Reducing hospital-acquired infections through innovation

Hospital-acquired infections continue to get attention as payers stop paying for care resulting from mistakes.

Needless to say, the market for products to make hospitals cleaner has grown (and will continue to do so) as a result.  Ecolab, a Minnesota-based company focused on clean, recently released an intriguing product.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports:

This week, St. Paul-based Ecolab introduced a preoperative antiseptic bathing kit that lets patients sterilize their bodies before undergoing the knife.

The kits, which contain a 4-ounce bottle of chlorhexidine gluconate (CHG) skin disinfectant, two wrapped washcloths and cleaning instructions, are expected to help hospitals cut down on the alarming number of surgery-related infections.

Hospitals are looking for help in reducing hospital-acquired infections.  Their interest is strengthening as mistakes become financially straining.  Companies like Ecolab are essential to the process of making health care safer.

Model for Innovation Exploration

Are generational differences in the workplace becoming a problem?

Steve Baker (writer at Business Week) at Blogspotting posted responses to such a question.  It’s an interesting thought worth further exploration.  Very interesting thoughts from the Twittersphere.

The tweets uncovered a gem of a story, too.  A gem that could provide a model for health care delivery innovation exploration.

Nick Eaton and seven of his young colleagues at the Spokane Spokesman-Review have been given the task by their editor (Steve) to “reinvent how a newspaper functions.”

We are charged to take a blank sheet of paper and come up with a way to make the Spokesman newsroom efficient while completing all if its objectives. The eight of us are meeting every day, often for several hours at a time, to work through this process.

A few guidelines and limitations have been laid out, but their remarkable task is fundamentally unpolluted.

Here’s the gist:

Our goal, as I understand it, is to come to Steve with a report by 5 p.m. July 10. He may or may not eventually implement our recommendations (we can have many), but he has promised to take them seriously.

Lots of work.  Lots of ideas I’m sure.  Very, very intriguing approach.

Interesting dialog:

There is skepticism and fear in the newsroom, of course. Many veteran Spokesman employees don’t like that Steve has selected eight young journalists and put some responsibility of the future of the newspaper into our hands. We don’t have the experience, they say. Steve sees it the opposite: We don’t have a stake in how newspapers have operated for 150 years, we don’t have a stake in who is in what editor position, we don’t really even have a stake in how the newsroom is currently structured.

Could a similar approach be used in health care?  Yes.  Could it be useful and productive and spark needed delivery innovation?  Yes.  It seems a perfect model for a hospital innovation center.

Asking Questions and Innovation in Practice

Lots of cool stuff going on at SSM St. Clare Health Center.

Namely, question asking:

Building from the ground up, SSM officials sought to streamline the health care delivery process through a facility that maximizes patient and practitioner efficiency. They started by turning inward, scrutinizing processes like outpatient admissions and emergency department procedures and soliciting opinions from staff, physicians and patients.

“It’s asking each one of us who deliver health care in today’s current state to really broaden our horizons, challenge the way we do things, ask ‘why’ a million times and then figure out what’s the right way,” said Brobst, a clinical director at St. Joseph.


And a commitment to delivery innovation:

Brobst oversees a unique 22-bed medical and surgical pilot unit that mimics conditions at the soon-to-open St. Clare. Housed in a medical office building connected to St. Joseph, the pilot unit allows nurses and physicians to implement new procedures and processes in real-world conditions.

The health system also spent more than $110,000 on a full-scale mock-up of a patient’s room at the new hospital. More than 150 St. Joseph employees have walked through the prototype in the last two years, providing feedback that resulted in changes ranging from the creation of individual nurse alcoves outside each room to wall-length safety bars leading from the bed to the bathroom.


Forward thinking hospitals. It’s cool to see good ideas in action.