Bring on the Innovation: Time Again to Submit to Our Innovator Awards Program

Nov. 7, 2019
It’s time again to submit to our Innovator Awards Program—at a time when the burning platform for change in U.S. healthcare is burning brighter than ever

Click this link right here to submit your entry to the 2020 Innovator Awards Program.

A book that quickly became a classic was the 1997 Guns, Germs and Steel, by historian Jared Diamond. It was a seminal work in the new popular history writing that began in the 1980s and fully flourished in the 1990s, in which writers combined probing research and thought with scintillating prose created for broad, not academic, audiences.

Here's what the Wikipedia entry says about the book:

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (previously titled Guns, Germs and Steel: A Short History of Everybody for the Last 13,000 Years) is a 1997 transdisciplinary non-fiction book by Jared Diamond, professor of geography and physiology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). In 1998, Guns, Germs, and Steel won the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction and the Aventis Prize for Best Science Book. A documentary based on the book, and produced by the National Geographic Society, was broadcast on PBS in July 2005. The book attempts to explain why Eurasian and North African civilizations have survived and conquered others, while arguing against the idea that Eurasian hegemony is due to any form of Eurasian intellectual, moral, or inherent genetic superiority. Diamond argues that the gaps in power and technology between human societies originate primarily in environmental differences, which are amplified by various positive feedback loops. When cultural or genetic differences have favored Eurasians (for example, written language or the development among Eurasians of resistance to endemic diseases), he asserts that these advantages occurred because of the influence of geography on societies and cultures (for example, by facilitating commerce and trade between different cultures) and were not inherent in the Eurasian genomes.”

What’s fascinating is how Diamond places the development of technology into the broader weave of human history, rather than looking at it as a phenomenon somehow separate from human development. In that context, these paragraphs from pages 258 and 259 are compelling:

“Because technology begets more technology, the importance of an invention’s diffusion potentially exceeds the importance of the original invention. Technology’s history exemplifies what is termed an autocatalytic process: that is, one that speeds up at a rate that increases with time, because the process catalyzes itself. The explosion of technology since the Industrial Revolution impresses us today, but the medieval explosion was equally impressive compared with that of the Bronze Age, which in turn dwarfed that of the Upper Paleolithic.

One reason why technology tends to catalyze itself is that advances depend upon previous mastery of simpler problems. For example, Stone Age farmers did not proceed directly to extracting and working iron, which requires high-temperature furnaces. Instead, iron ore metallurgy grew out of thousands of years of human experience with natural outcrops of pure metals soft enough to be hammered into shape without heat (copper and gold). It also grew out of thousands of years of development of simple furnaces to make pottery, and then to extract cooper ores and work copper alloys (bronzes that do not require as high temperatures, as does iron. In both the Fertile Crescent and China, iron objects became common only after about 2,000 years of experience of bronze metallurgy. New World societies had just begun making bronze artifacts and had not yet started making iron ones at the time when the arrival of Europeans truncated the New World’s independent trajectory.”

In other words, technological innovation is a messy, complicated process, one that involves a tremendous amount of unsuccessful or partially successful attempts at progress before some advances “stick” and allow societies to move forward definitively along a particular dimension.

Of course, all those involved in innovation in healthcare delivery and operations right now are inevitably highly conscious of the challenges involved. And those who have plunged into the trial-and-error activity needed to create innovations are learning how to fail fast and move as quickly as possible to birthing change that is advancing clinical and operational transformation in hospitals, medical groups, integrated health systems, and health plans, at a time when the purchasers and payers of healthcare are demanding change to curb costs, improve efficiency, and enhance patient outcomes.

What’s more, as everyone knows, innovation in patient care organizations these days is all about teams and teamwork; no single individuals can create the advances needed to transform healthcare delivery and operations in this incredibly challenging and complex operating environment. That’s why, beginning in 2009, we, the editors of what was then Healthcare Informatics (our name changed this January), we redesigned our annual Innovator Awards Program from its previous honoring of individuals in healthcare and healthcare IT, to recognizing teams in hospitals, medical groups, and integrated health systems, as well as, over time, health plans, health information exchanges, and other organizations involved in patient care. And, in ten years of sponsoring this program, we’ve been able to recognize nearly 40 organizations’ winning teams, in our program, as well as several dozen runners up. In other words, well over 100 organizations that have contributed to every kind of innovation—clinical, operational, financial—have been recognized by our program.

And now, it’s time for the leaders of hospitals, medical groups, integrated health systems, health plans, and health information exchanges, to once again share their innovations with the world, via our program. Please click on this link to submit your entry to our program; you’ll have the opportunity to let the world know what you and your teammates have been accomplishing.

Innovation is never a straightforward process; as Jared Diamond noted, it involves a tremendous amount of trial-and-error work, over long periods of time. Yet never has there been a more immediate burning platform for innovation in healthcare, as the Medicare actuaries remind us that the U.S. healthcare system will in the next several years move from costing its current approximate $3.3 trillion a year, to around $6 trillion a year, even as the U.S. population ages, and the incidence of chronic illness explodes, including among younger Americans.

So we’ve got that burning platform; and, fortunately, many, many are answering the call for innovation. Please join your colleagues in submitting to our program. We’re committed to recognizing innovation, and to sharing the wonderful advances that are taking place now, with the entire industry. It’s such an exciting time. I think that Jared Diamond would approve, don’t you?

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