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It's time for healthcare to innovate how it innovates

By Dr. Dennis Schmuland, Chief Health Strategy Officer, U.S. Health and Life Sciences, Microsoft on May 18, 2017

Filed under Health

The conventional wisdom approach
The innovative, radical and sustainable approach to innovation
Learn how Adventist Health System democratized innovation

The more I meet and interact with health systems and insurers across the US, the more I’m seeing the emergence of two approaches to innovation. One is conventional wisdom, the other is, well, much more innovative.

The conventional wisdom approach

The conventional wisdom, knee-jerk strategy taken by most boards happens something like this. The board tells the executive team “We need to be more innovative. Let’s fund the creation of a new innovation department staffed by innovation experts and pour large sums of money–even 100s of millions–into startup accelerators and incubators. Everyone else is doing it and, if we don’t do it too, the market is going to view us as an old school dinosaur.”

The upside to this approach is that it will make your company stand out. Even more important, your company will look cooler to your customers and employees. It may even attract millennials and top talent away from chic startups. And it’ll give your employees bragging rights because your company is positioning itself, at least from a PR perspective, as a company that’s ready to reinvent and digitally transform itself. Your company is telling the market that it’s determined to adapt to any change the market is willing to throw your way.

But there’s an important downside to this approach. Compared to the innovative approach, this one’s low leverage, high cost, and slow. To me, that word combination spells “u.n.s.u.s.t.a.i.n.a.b.l.e.”. Ironically, creating an innovation department and funding accelerators is the most un-innovative approach to innovation.

To be clear, these two models aren’t mutually exclusive. They can and, in some cases, should co-exist.

Don’t misunderstand me here — innovation departments play an important role in cultivating start-ups and creating safe and risk-tolerant design and test spaces–away from the pressured, protocol-driven care settings.

But innovation departments and incubators are also expensive, low in leverage, and the time to value and diffusion tends to be long. Unfortunately, most of the organizations I meet with that have invested 10s of millions in innovation departments and incubators have snubbed the innovative approach.

The innovative, radical and sustainable approach to innovation

By now you’re probably saying to yourself, “Who’s taking this innovative approach to innovation that’s high leverage, low cost, and fast?”

An outlier like Orlando-based Adventist Health System. Instead of investing 100s of millions in accelerators and setting up internal innovation consultancies, they’ve crowdsourced innovation to every one of their 60,000 employees across the 45 hospital campuses over 10 states. They’ve crowdsourced innovation by equipping their frontline teams with the process redesign tools of Office 365 and challenged them to digitally transform their clinical and non-clinical processes in a way that saves time, reduces waste, inefficiencies, and errors, and maximizes team performance.

Leading health system innovators like Adventist share three things in common that give them an advantage over their competitors by expanding their capacity to innovate fast and frugally across the organization. First, they equip both clinical and non-clinical teams with the process redesign tools in Office 365–like Skype for Business, OneDrive, OneNote, SharePoint, Power BI, and Yammer–to innovate. Second, they challenge them to use those process redesign tools to reinvent both clinical and non-clinical processes. And third, these health systems look beyond their core systems and EHRs to digitally transform their processes both within and beyond their four walls. And because they’ve deputized their frontline teams to innovate, these teams can prove the impact and almost instantly implement those innovations within their live work environments, bypassing the lab where most innovations languish and eventually die.

More on how Adventist crowdsourced innovation in our recent webcast here: How Adventist Health System democratized innovation

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