Embracing Innovation in Healthcare

Marketing Director

Few industries have as vital a need for innovation as healthcare. Spending on healthcare is more than one-sixth of the annual U.S. gross domestic product, and medical errors account for 400,000 deaths per year.

In order for patients to receive the best care possible, and to ensure the long-term viability of those who deliver it, we must continually search for ways to do better. Only 70 percent of Americans can say they received care from the best possible hospital, and up to 60 percent of healthcare workers are affected by burnout, according to Katie Owens, President of the Healthcare Experience Foundation, which works with organizations to shape their cultures through innovation.

Knocking Down Barriers to Innovation

Owens herself says she worked in child life therapy before suffering burnout. She switched to the financial and then the consulting side of healthcare, and has spent the past 10 years coaching hospitals and health systems to improve performance.

There are plenty of barriers to innovation in healthcare. Standards for accreditation and compliance are necessarily high, and profit margins are generally slim. And there is the ongoing political uncertainty about government’s involvement. In other words, the healthcare model is constantly in flux.

Coupled with all of this is the massive and growing demand for healthcare talent. If workers who want to innovate feel like they’re being held back by the organization, chances are they’ll look to jump ship to somewhere they have more support.

This is why it’s important to not just talk about innovation but to create a culture that embraces it, Owens says.

Creating an Innovative Culture

“Change is hard. People do not want to change; they want to be brought along to something greater. We have to refocus our paradigm on innovation and engagement. We need to create power with vs. power over. We hire incredible team members to work every day. Why not give them the opportunity to co-design and innovate?” Owens says.

Culture can be the most powerful lever to drive innovation and performance. It can’t just be an initiative, which is seen as something fleeting with a starting and ending point. Creating an innovative culture has to be a daily habit. That starts at the top.

“Senior teams need to set aspirations for what a culture of innovation will look like in their organization, and set goals and metrics. Then communicate with leaders that vision and how leaders can be successful. Messages and innovation skills have to be developed and validated from the senior team to the front lines,” Owens says.

Choosing the Right Tools and Tactics

It all starts with communication. When information flows freely and people feel like they’re part of a culture where speaking out is encouraged, innovation can thrive. Daily huddles, even those lasting just a few minutes, are demonstrated to be effective in building that culture, according to Sarah McVanel, Chief Recognition Officer at Greatness Magnified, who speaks, writes and coaches on healthcare cultures.

It’s also smart to extend the communication umbrella outside of employees. Hold open forums in which providers, patients, families and politicians can have an honest exchange that actually affects policy decisions. Give healthcare teams the time to get away from the daily grind, observe others conducting best practices and network with peers.

When it comes to recognition, shift the model from traditional benchmarks like time served to emphasizing people who come up with and execute great ideas. Reward experimentation. Encourage workers to lead projects and apply for grants to seed innovative applications of their concepts, McVanel says.

Forging Multiple Paths to Deliver Impact

“We just cannot afford to not progress. I think a lot of people believe that the more we innovate, the more expensive it is. But there are lots of cost efficiencies that can happen as well. Employers and individuals who are trying to afford healthcare themselves are struggling,” McVanel says.

Innovation in healthcare doesn’t just mean creating a life-saving drug or surgical technique. McVanel says reducing redundant processes and improving systems that keep caregiving systems functioning are just as vital.

“Sometimes innovation isn't creating the next drug revolution or pharmaceutical or the next big piece of equipment. It can be as simple but as complex as treating people in a way that they can provide the best possible care. They feel safe, physically, emotionally and psychologically.”

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