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Get Innovative: A Message for Hospitals and Healthcare Systems

Innovation

During my tenure as a hospital CEO, one hurdle often seemed insurmountable: getting leaders and staff across the organization to think like innovators.

Many leaders suffer from behavioral tendencies and management styles that don’t naturally allow for innovative thinking. Decades of adhering to regulations, organizational procedures and healthcare mandates hinder the ability (or desire) to try new thinking to solve persistent organizational issues and problems. In fact, when it comes to innovation in healthcare, the autocratic and bureaucratic structures and functions of today’s health systems in the United States actually discourage innovation.

Why? Why do leaders in multi-million-dollar, state-of-the-art healthcare facilities fail to apply innovative thinking to their day-to-day decision making? It’s a huge problem.

Several years ago, Google shared its nine principles of innovation with Fast Company. In addition to the standard principles like “have a mission everyone believes in,” Google execs had the foresight to make sure innovative thinking was practiced at every level in the organization and open to all users. By making processes open, the organization created an entirely new mobile operating system. Innovation at its most creative.

In healthcare, we see innovation come from outside the industry every day. Disruption exists and is designed to make us think differently about care delivery. Hospitals at home, a shift to low-cost commodity procedures, the use of new applications focused on patient data, imaging and simple basic surgeries. These are all examples of innovation in our industry.

But if we compare the difference between Google and a healthcare system, say a public university academic medical center, the struggle our industry faces is immediately apparent. Improving the healthcare system slows to a turtle-like pace because of age-old leadership behaviors that say “innovation can’t happen here.” Good – even great – ideas to solve problems percolate from all levels, but managers, directors and vice presidents are not encouraged or incented to take action on these ideas, which slowly die on the vine. Soon the innovative thinking stops entirely.

Part of the problem may be the financing mechanism. Healthcare systems need to shift their thinking away from filling hospital beds to creating patient value and better outcomes via better (innovative) decision making.

Dr. Toby Cosgrove, CEO at the Cleveland Clinic says the explosion in knowledge is forcing a change in how healthcare leaders think. “The total amount of knowledge in healthcare doubles every two years. We now have to figure out how to manage the change, how we deliver care, and we are looking for all kinds of new technologies to help us do that.”

Cosgrove has made innovation a priority at Cleveland Clinic throughout his tenure as CEO. Cleveland Clinic’s innovation lab leads in the effort to identify and implement new ideas.

“The DNA of our organization is about innovation, thinking differently about problems and finding solutions that may not be in the main stream,” says Cosgrove. “When we organize around patient problems instead of billing, we create a culture for employees to find and share ideas that make Cleveland Clinic better.”

The good news is your hospital or health system can reap the benefits of innovative thinking by adopting models used at other healthcare organizations who are experiencing dramatic results.

Leadership at Atrius Health, a care provider organization in Eastern Massachusetts with 30 medical practices and a home health and hospice agency, believed that instead of making incremental changes to improve efficiency and reduce waste, they could leverage innovation and create an entirely new care model. They launched an innovation program using the following eight steps:

  • Establish an Innovation Center focused on new ideas to improve operations and patient care.
  • Create a dedicated multidisciplinary team (clinicians, engineers, operations specialists) assigned to guide the new strategy and vision.
  • Gather patient observations and inputs.
  • Understand the operational needs of every functional department.
  • Provide ample time to explore and experiment with new ideas.
  • Allocate necessary resources for prototyping and trialing new methods.
  • Set expectations among all leaders and protect the work of the team.
  • Align innovation with the organization’s long-term strategic goals.

The results of Atrius’ efforts have paid off in many ways. For example, with its new Care in Place program, the organization dramatically reduced emergency room visits and hospitalizations of patients who are 65 years old and older. Through the use of visiting nurses, this patient population can receive care in their home within two hours of placing a call to their care provider. Improved service, patient outcomes and a reduction in unnecessary use of high-cost services all thanks to innovative thinking.

Effective leaders understand that the process of creating an innovative culture is as important as the innovation itself. Your organization’s culture is a direct result of what you do each day. If you and your executive team hold on to traditional management practices, so will every employee.

Soren Kaplan, Ph.D. and author of, Invisible Advantage: How to Create a Culture of Innovation, says the most innovative companies don’t do one thing focused on innovation; they create an integrated system of activities that all reinforce each other to shape culture. “The goal is to eliminate the feeling of risk altogether and replace it with an environment focused on collaboration and learning. That’s what a true culture of innovation does.”

Kaplan’s point supports the need for healthcare organizations to consider adopting a lean healthcare management system. Through the design of healthcare management practices based on patient-centered care delivery, payment and incentive programs that focus on value and patient outcomes, and transparency of performance (quality and cost) throughout the organization, all employees – from the frontline to the C-suite, will find themselves functioning in a new culture of innovation.

To learn more about creating a culture of innovative thinking within your organization, consider attending the Catalysis Innovation in Healthcare workshop on Thursday, September 28, 2017. Led by Ted Toussaint, this workshop will demonstrate awareness of the process, people, and space necessary for care model innovation. Click here to learn more.

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