Healthcare Innovation - 101

One of the most frequently questions asked is “What is healthcare innovation?” Similar to the story of the blind men touching different sides of an elephant and each describing something separate, you will receive numerous answers to this question based on whom you ask.

The focus of innovation could be innovative information technologies, devices, workflow processes, methodologies, care models or business models.

How is an innovation project different than an improvement project? The short answer is that an improvement project is done to improve something, while an innovation project is done to blow up the current process or tool and create a new one. A classic example of this is polio: improvement experts would focus on designing a better iron lung, while innovation experts would consider how they might create a vaccine to stop this disease in the first place.

Is there a science or methodology to doing innovation well? Yes, similar to how improvement projects may use techniques like Lean and Six Sigma, the world of innovation relies on the concept of “Design Thinking” which has a different set of methodologies. The typical innovation project involves three main phases: discovery, incubation and acceleration.

In the discovery phase, a problem is studied and observed and then various brainstorming techniques are used to create potential solutions. In the incubation stage, rapid cycle prototyping and piloting are done too quickly and cheaply find what fails and what works. In the acceleration phase, the successful pilot is spread using a variety of educational and other techniques. ​What helps make up a successful healthcare innovation?

First, it always starts with a passion for making something better plus some time and resources to focus on the project. Second, it needs to have a real-world business model to keep the innovation sustainable. Third, the innovation needs to be well integrated into information technologies and clinical workflows so that it can be easily spread. Not surprisingly, it is this last part which is always one of the hardest and yet most important pieces. And it is why this intersection of information technology and innovation remains critical to the success of evolving our healthcare system to meet its potential.