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How Do You Build a Culture of Innovation at a Healthcare Organization?

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By Clive Riddle, April 21, 2017


Now that we’re thirty days in the Spring of 2017, nurturing seedlings with hopes of taking deeper root should be on the mind of every healthcare gardener. Along these lines, the current issue of Healthcare Innovation News asks their panel the question, “How Do You Build a Culture of Innovation Within Your Organization?” Here’s some excerpts from what these sowers of innovation seeds had to say:


David R. Strand, Chief Executive Officer of Life Cross Training, based in Chicago, says in part, “We often point to technology advances as “innovation” in healthcare. Yet, the next real innovation in healthcare will come from our investments in human capital—investments in the people we count on to deliver high-quality care and a great patient experience.  Addressing this problem requires comprehensive, innovative solutions focused in three distinct areas: (1) Improving the practice environment. Systematically identifying and eliminating hassles from technology to process to organizational design and identifying and accentuating those things that bring joy to clinical practice; (2) Aligning teams around common values and shared goals. Establishing guiding principles for interactions with one another and with patients and building cultures that support the well-being of both patients and clinicians; (3) Providing clinicians with evidence-based skills driving individual well-being. Ensuring that clinicians are better equipped to handle the intrinsic stress associated with their work and busy lives.


James Polfreman, CEO and President of Solis Mammography based in Addison, Texas echoes the theme that technology is not enough, sharing that  “In the field of women’s breast health, innovation is not only measured in terms of technology and clinical accuracy, but also in areas of patient service, convenience and care to ensure annual compliance and repeat business.” He advises that “to foster innovation, an environment must be actively cultivated to promote openness and collaboration in order to tap into the natural passion of employees. This type of environment benefits the entire team and translates into superior patient care Well-informed teams are vital. Communication of a crystal-clear vision and mission is fundamental……When new ideas are implemented, having clear processes in place from training to implementation is key…..Consistently challenging the status quo motivates initiative….. Finally, a culture of innovation is maintained through leadership by example, repetition and affirmation of a job well done. This influences how you attract, recruit, retain, train and reward teams.”


Joanna Engelke, Managing Director at Halloran Consulting Group in Boston counsels in part that “there are numerous best practices cited to support an innovative culture: (A) Enabling employees to spend 5% to 10% of their time on freethinking and creating “skunkworks” projects—those dedicated solely to radical innovation; (B) Creating office designs that encourage “bumping into each other” with lots of light, mobile whiteboards, huddle rooms, collaboration centers and games; (C) Investing in an internal, venture capital-like fund with all the trappings of pitches, business plans, proof of concept and funding milestones that are outside a regular product development arena; (D) Sponsoring crowd-sourced, problem-solving fairs for internal and external participation; (E) Surveying employees to gain an understanding of internal practices that block or prevent innovation; (F)                 Rewarding innovation in each department of an organization.” But Joanna reminds us, “the real secret sauce to an innovative culture is very basic: Management must pay attention.”


Finally, Summerpal Kahlon, M.D., Director of Care Innovation at Oracle Health Sciences, based in Satellite Beach, Florida, says we need to listen. “Listening is a key skill in healthcare.” In particular he advocates listening to data through analytics. He cites these as examples that can drive innovation – “There are a few high-value, rich sources of information that can provide interesting lifestyle insight: Demographic information, including occupation, income and family/social environment; Environmental data, including census, local crime statistics and accessible parks/recreation; and Retail data, particularly for grocery and drugstores.”


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