Why the Aversion to Innovation?

Here is what is awful: rejecting retail health care because “a patient shouldn’t purchase health care at the same place they buy groceries/supplies/incidentals as the quality can’t be as good” or rejecting direct practice because “there is no way medical care can be delivered over the internet” or rejecting medical tourism because “there is no way that a consequential number of Americans will ever want to receive care overseas.”

Rejection because “it’s something new” is awful.

For whatever reason (precedent mostly), the health care industry is averse to new ways of doing things. If a new way of performing a task is accepted, it is definitely not without significant debate—and even then it’s not implemented everywhere.

We need a lot of things to happen to get us out of our health care mess. In traditional health care organizations, innovation needs to start at finding new and better ways to deliver care.

Why do we have such an aversion to innovation in health care?  And how do we go about changing that?

Here are some thoughts and possibilities (feel to add/subtract as you feel necessary, but only if your argument sounds nothing like the first paragraph of this post):

1. Let your patients participate in design. Really, ask them what they want. Ask them to design around their needs. As Max Chafkin in this INC. article writes, “The companies that win will be the ones that listen.” What does that mean? Focus groups. Interviews. Questionnaires. “Overhearing” conversations in the hallways or in the cafeteria. Blog. Twitter. Facebook. It sounds crazy, but “user innovation” is possible. From the same article:

This idea goes against a basic principle that has been taught in business schools since the invention of mass production: Employees make stuff, and customers buy it. But this notion seems anachronistic in a marketplace of ever-narrowing niches and nearly unlimited consumer choices. Meanwhile, a generation of so-called Web 2.0 companies has succeeded by encouraging customers to contribute to, and in some cases create, the product being sold. Not only do we have instantaneous access to countless television programs though video websites, but anyone with a YouTube account and a digital camera can create a show of his or her own. Professionally edited, dead-tree newspapers are besieged by digital news sites that are produced and edited by their readers. The 240-year-old Encyclopaedia Britannica finds itself eclipsed — at least in terms of readership — by Wikipedia.com, which pays its writers nothing and requires that they possess no expertise at all.

2. Create a department that !only! pursues delivery innovations. Kaiser Permanente’s Sidney R. Garfield Innovation Center “is a living laboratory where ideas are tested and solutions are developed in a hands-on, mocked-up clinical environment. Many aspects of delivering healthcare can be innovated and examined at the Center using real-world scenarios and activities, such as simulations, technology testing, prototyping, product evaluations, and training.”

It’s important to have a centralized figure collecting ideas and making the necessary connections that turn an invention into innovation. Ram Charan says in a Fast Company interview:

Let me explain some simple things. First, as Thomas Edison said, an idea is called invention. Converting an idea into revenues and profits or something a customer uses is innovation. Today, in the Internet society, you can buy ideas. You can have ideas flow to you from outside your department and outside your company. Innovation is selecting an idea and converting it to the production of a product, service, or new business model that creates growth and profit. The conversion of an idea for most companies, if not all, requires more than one person to make it happen. And that is why it is a social process.

And sums up his thoughts like this:

Necessity is the mother of invention. Those companies that are not getting top line growth organically, they are absolutely pressed to figure out how to create these collaborative changes for innovation. This is the era of the renaissance of innovation. If you don’t do innovation, cost cutting is not enough. You will be left behind.

3. Stop waiting on the government. CMS regulations handed down (and then copied by private insurers) are ruthlessly tearing through your organization. Preventing hospital acquired infections should have been a top priority before payers stopped paying for them. As we all know CMS is constantly looking for reasons not to pay your organization. Why not make it about constant improvement instead of constant reaction?

4. Waiting to hear from you…

I know we’ll figure it out. Crisis produces innovation. But wouldn’t you rather make a proactive decision?

Will any of this work? I’m sure of it. Will all of it work? Not likely. But here is the message: continuing to criticize delivery innovations as pie-in-the-sky developments is dangerous. It’s even more dangerous to stand by and do nothing. Let us be p-r-o-a-c-t-i-v-e, I’m begging…

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