One-on-One with Healthcare Innovation Leader Naomi Fried

Naomi Fried, Ph.D., has a career that seems to cover all the exciting areas of healthcare. From being a VC consultant to being one of the first to take on the mantle of leading innovation at two prominent healthcare systems, she is now CEO of Health Innovation Strategies and on a mission to drive digital transformation.

Pamela Dixon, an Atlanta-based managing partner at CastLight Search, an executive search firm, recently interviewed Fried about healthcare innovation and how specific C-suite roles—such as chief innovation officers and chief digital officers—are continuing to evolve within patient care organizations. Below are excerpts of that discussion.

As we have discussed, emerging leadership roles are can be vital to moving the industry forward, but there are challenges. One challenge is defining these roles. That’s why I am thrilled to talk with you about the role of chief innovation officer (CInO).  You were one of the first chief innovation officers in healthcare, and you held titles of vice president of innovation in 2006 for Kaiser Permanente and chief innovation officer at Boston Children’s Hospital in 2010.  What prepared you for this and what were some of the challenges?

What prepared me for my first role in innovation was my work as an entrepreneur and my comfort with innovation and risk. My first role leading innovation prepared me for my second role!

One challenge I faced at both organizations was the lack of vocabulary to talk about innovation. Another challenge was because the role was new, they didn’t really know what to expect from me. At both organizations, my initial responsibilities included clarifying and building consensus around the remit of our innovation programs.

A third, unanticipated challenge was that few people thought of themselves as innovators. Thus, we needed to build a community of innovators and draw in people who had not previously thought about innovation. 

At both Kaiser and Boston Children’s, I am proud that we built programs from scratch to suit the specific remit and drive real value for the organizations. These programs were very successful and are still thriving today!

It’s amazing to me that bringing a dedicated focus can be so enlightening to the organization. What do you see as the key value of the chief innovation officer?

A chief innovation officer can provide value in a couple of important ways. The CInO can help the CEO and senior leadership realize their vision for the organization’s future, focusing on new business models and technologies.

Second, as the main innovation evangelist, the CInO is responsible for educating the organization on the importance of taking risks and accepting innovation-related failures. Risk and failure are inevitable with innovation—and a critical component to learning and improving.

Third, the CInO generally helps drive collaboration, working with stakeholders from across the organization. The CInO often brings together people interested in solving internal challenges through innovation. 

Speaking specifically of the CInO role, it seems that leading companies and progressive health systems have realized that innovation needs to be a core value across all functions, but do you think the CInO role will gain more momentum more broadly on the provider side of healthcare?  

Absolutely. Though the CInO role has started to gain momentum on the provider side, it still takes a visionary CEO to recognize that innovation can help an organization achieve its strategic plan. And high-level sponsorship—ideally support by the CEO—is one factor tied to the success of a CInO.

Some organizations give people titles with the word “innovation” in it, like “director of innovation and quality,” or “VP of strategy and innovation,” but often these roles don’t focus exclusively on innovation. Instead, the roles may also have responsibility for related fields like quality and safety.  However, the most successful innovation leaders are those who are 100 percent focused on driving innovation. 

Ultimately, as CInOs successfully build and develop innovation programs, more and more providers will be getting into the innovation game and creating their own innovation roles.

We agree about the importance of a dedicated focus in terms of driving results and ROI helps too.  I wonder what you think of another new healthcare role: the chief digital officer?

I am excited about the creation of the chief digital officer (CDO) in forward-thinking organizations, particularly when these roles focus on digital health and not just digitization of business functions. 

Digital health is going to transform medicine, as it can improve outcomes and decrease costs by delivering care and information in entirely new ways. 

CDOs are akin to CInOs and take innovation risks. But CDOs are focused more narrowly on pushing the boundaries only with new technologies. CInOs may focus on innovation in technology, processes, and procedures. The CDOs who will have the greatest impact on both their organizations and patients are those focused broadly on digital healthcare, not just information-management systems or health records.

CDOs who are focused on digital health can be change agents, transforming their organizations and delivering better care and greater value to patients.

We couldn’t agree with you more on that. These are exciting opportunities. Looking ahead, what do you personally look forward to accomplishing most?

I am currently advising large healthcare companies on establishing and enhancing innovation programs. In addition, I am working on a taxonomy for understanding and organizing the rapidly growing field of digital health.  I feel fortunate to work with a variety of healthcare organizations to help launch their digital health strategy and innovation programs.

Naomi Fried, Ph.D., is the founder and CEO Health Innovation Strategies. She can be found on Twitter @NaomiFried

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