What is innovation, how does it intersect with information technology, and how does it apply to healthcare? Those questions and more were explored recently at the CI2O Innovation Summit in Chicago. The event brought C-suite executives from healthcare organizations and industry together with a policymaker, a venture capitalist and innovation thought leaders to exchange ideas in a free-flowing format that gave every participant a voice.
Vijay Govindarajan, a distinguished professor at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business and an innovation visionary, helped frame the issue with the first of two keynote addresses. Author of Reverse Innovation in Health Care: How to Make Value-based Delivery Work and The Three Box Solution: A Strategy for Leading Innovation, he said he first became interested in innovation when growing up in an impoverished part of India. “We had lots of problems but few resources,” he said. “The only way to solve our problems was through innovation.” He offered as an example an electrocardiogram he helped GE develop for rural regions that lack electricity, trained staff and the money needed to buy and run a standard ECG machine. They devised a lightweight portable ECG that runs on batteries with only two color-coded on-off buttons that anyone can use to perform a test.
Many healthcare organizations confuse incremental efforts to improve performance and maximize efficiency with innovation, Govindarajan proposed. He categorized those as projects designed to manage the present. True innovation occurs when an organization selectively abandons past models, adapts to change and creates a future that positions the organization as a leader. This poses a strategic challenge, he acknowledged, because it often requires different processes and people and disrupts the status quo.
To create a future, a healthcare organization needs to imagine a possibility and then make sure daily tasks point to that possibility. “It is simple to say but not simple to do,” Govindarajan said. “Everything I said is common sense, but it is not common practice.”
Several forces are at play that make healthcare ripe for innovation, according to the speakers and participants. Shrinking profit margins and growing competition from consumer-focused businesses are pressuring some healthcare organizations to go outside their comfort zone and innovate. Organizations that already embrace change may see opportunities to innovate though restructuring or partnering with entrepreneurs. At the same time, hospitals and health systems face strong headwinds from entrenched and risk-averse cultures, short sightedness, regulatory constraints and tight budgets. Most importantly – and the differentiator between healthcare and other sectors – they need to ensure that no innovation harms patients in any way.
Zane Burke, CEO of Livongo and a CHIME Board of Trustees member, introduced the second keynote speaker, Emily Melton, co-founder and managing partner at Threshold Ventures. Melton said she sees opportunities in healthcare, citing the recent IPO of Livongo, which is one of Threshold’s portfolio companies. She outlined the basics that a venture capitalist looks for in a startup: the product/market fit, the ability to scale broadly and access to multiple customers who will pay over time. Timing is also critical, she said. Investors gauge the market drivers and technology drivers simultaneously to decide when to fund a startup.
Getting concurrence from others is valuable as well, she said. “When you think about similar solutions that can be relevant to a number of you, the extent to which there can be some agreement on picking the companies that are most likely to succeed, you will benefit because they will succeed,” she said. “If everyone does their own custom one-off solution, you won’t see those companies be able to serve the market the way they should.”
Many in the audience agreed that to succeed in a healthcare setting, an innovation needs supportive leadership, a committed and collaborative team, resources and a clear and impactful story. Those topics will be explored in greater depth through CHIME Innovation, which hosted the CI2O Innovation Summit. “The summit is merely the beginning of the conversation.” said CHIME’s Chief Innovation Officer Jonathan Fritz, JD. “This was designed unlike any other CHIME event to bring healthcare leaders together and shape health and care globally through innovation.”
Just as the summit’s participants contributed to the discussion, they will also provide insights for white papers and other resources for the industry in ongoing efforts that began at the summit. The next CI2O Innovation Summit will be held on Aug. 5-6, 2020, in Chicago.
CHIME Innovation was launched in early 2019 to facilitate innovation and provide educational resources for CHIME members and the global healthcare community. Resources include an Innovation Center launched in partnership with Intermountain Healthcare in Utah, which will be the site of the third CHIME Innovation workshop, Innovation Strategy & Frameworks. More information about CHIME Innovation is available here.
Candace Stuart is Director, Communications & Public Relations, at the Ann Arbor, Michigan-based College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME).