3 Questions for Dr. David Bates of Partners HealthCare System

David Bates, M.D., is the medical director of clinical and quality analysis, information systems at Partners HealthCare System, the professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, and the chief of general internal medicine and primary care and  former chief clinical innovation officer and senior vice president at Brigham and Women's Hospital. CastLight Search recently asked Dr. Bates three questions for the firm’s latest piece in its thought leadership interview series.

You are a nationally renowned leader in patient safety improved clinical quality and patient outcomes.  What prompted your transition to chief innovation officer and what was your vision for innovation for the iHub (Brigham and Women's Hospital’s innovation hub)?

I was asked to take on the role by our CEO, Dr. Betsy Nabel.  I have spent much of my career working on how best to improve patient safety and quality, and many of the changes we have assessed over the years have involved innovations.  An especially important one was studying the use of computerize physician order entry linked with clinical decision support to improve the safety of prescribing.  Early on with the iHub we had to decide what to focus on.  In most hospital innovation centers, it is either drugs, devices or digital innovation—few are good at all of these.  We elected after some reflection to focus on digital innovation, in part because that is where we had the strongest history.

Defining emerging leadership roles is always difficult because they are in a state of change.  What has been your biggest challenge in the chief innovation role? Are these challenges universal to innovation programs or unique?

The biggest challenge was that leadership expected returns in a very short timeframe.  It takes up to five years for most innovation centers to become profitable.  Another challenge is getting the institution to take revenue from innovations that have succeeded and get them funneled back into the innovation space, rather than letting them fall to the bottom line.  A third is the current reimbursement system—today it is a mix of fee-for-service and accountable care, and innovations that reduce costs in one group do not do so in the other.

What are you the most proud of accomplishing in your role?

We were really successful in getting innovators from across the institution engaged in the process, and in finding them people to collaborate with.  Often this means interacting with people they might not know, like engineers, software designers, and people with business experience.  Before we started we were told that innovators felt that they had innovated in spite of the institution—afterwards they felt supported.  What worked the best for busy clinicians was to bring together groups from across a department and have them pitch their ideas.  This identified a lot of interesting ideas and got people involved who were not the serial innovators who would have succeeded with or without the iHub.

Megan Casey is a partner at CastLight Search, a retained search firm delivering healthcare’s innovative leaders

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