Lessons From A Health IT Innovator

Health IT Outcomes, May 30, 2017 – Tom Cox –

This scenario probably sounds familiar: a team member has a great idea for reducing patient wait times, enhancing outcomes or otherwise improving your business. You decide to hand off the idea to a senior project manager to explore and implement. Initial progress is made, and then development stalls. Urgent priorities pop up and distract the project team and everyone becomes impatient with the poor near-term results. Soon, the initiative is all but forgotten. After this scenario plays out again and again, all team members start to see “innovation” as nice in theory, but impossible in practice.

When it comes to cultivating innovation in our industry, patience, perseverance, and process pays off. Without a structured plan for seeing an idea from conception to full-scale production and adoption — and the dedication to stick with the idea through the obstacles and failures you’ll inevitably face — you absolutely will not be successful in creating meaningful, groundbreaking change — even more true in healthcare. Our industry is plagued by slow-moving processes and change-averse cultures. To counter those cultural challenges and encourage true innovation, we must overcome the “we’ve-never-done-it-that-way-before” mindset and push through any discomforts.

At MyHealthDirect, we’ve learned firsthand when we don’t prioritize the start-to-finish process and sufficiently support that process an innovative concept (no matter how brilliant) will fail. We’ve seen this dynamic play out numerous times, and we’ve made vast improvements in setting ourselves up for success. Specifically, we take the following steps:
    Create A Vision For Success: Before you begin taking any action around an idea, sit down and spend significant time building out a detailed vision for what success will look like. Where will this idea be after three months of planning? What about after the pilot? And after two years of full-scale implementation? Set the specific metrics that will define success every step of the way so you have a way to measure progress. Ensure some of these quantitative and qualitative success factors translate to short-term, highly visible, and valuable payoffs. For example, if your project team can see improved patient satisfaction within the first few weeks of the pilot phase they’re more likely to stay engaged and excited about the longer-term implementation.

    Build An Innovation Team: Identify skilled and enthusiastic team members to serve on a formal innovation team or department. They will be tasked with taking small ideas and carrying them through early stages of the development process, and will then serve as dedicated stakeholders who continue checking in with the project team through the life of the initiative — all the way to successful adoption. This group will also be responsible for setting and upholding success metrics, securing report-outs, and reporting back to senior leadership. Without this dedicated team, the challenge of running a fast-paced, high growth business will cannibalize returns and even the best idea will have no follow-through or accountability.

    Be Realistic And Patient: As I’ve mentioned, and as you well know, healthcare tends to move slowly. While large healthcare organizations will often fund innovation, the short-term financial measures make it difficult for them to stay with the project long enough for it to be successful. Cutting edge technology and change are important, but near-term financial growth often takes precedence. That was certainly the case with a payer we partnered with on an innovative idea to overhaul the healthcare consumer experience. While they had a great idea for improving the consumer buying process, the lengthy time from inception to adoption proved too much to handle, financial gain was not realized quick enough, and the project failed. Had they been more realistic in their vision and more patient in their execution, many patients may have benefited from a tremendous idea.

    Foresee Failure: As you work to develop, test, and implement a new idea you are going to fail. You’ll fail in ways big and small, early and often. True innovation is an ugly process, rife with challenges, obstacles, roadblocks, and naysayers. The only way through this battlefield is long-term vision and tenacity. Begin your process by brainstorming all the potential issues you may face along the way and come up with creative ways to handle them. This will provide a playbook you can utilize later and a starting point for solving the problems you can’t foresee. Change your mentality about failure and you’ll find success at the end of the tunnel — aim to fail fast; it will help you get better.

    Manage The Transition To Production: One of the trickiest moments in the lifecycle of innovation is the transition to production. This is the point when your team takes a proven, tested idea and applies it to the organization as a whole. When you put your idea — even a wonderful, well-developed idea — into production and practice all sorts of unexpected things can happen. Team members may fail to adopt the idea, or whole departments may go rogue. Your business model or culture may conflict with the concept at a practical level. Unforeseen issues will arise as you launch a new initiative or process and your team must be ready to do battle and iron out the kinks as this transition occurs. The moment you think you can stop paying attention and just let things be is the exact moment you need to redouble your laser-focus and commitment. Only then will you successfully fold an innovative idea into your day-to-day business.

These actions have worked for MyHealthDirect, and we’ll continue to expand on them as we learn more in the future. Culturally, your organization may require a somewhat different set of tactics to foster innovation. But the real key is the attention you pay to your process and mentality. If you’re taking the time to analyze why great ideas haven’t come to fruition, learning from your mistakes, and setting new standards to support future initiatives, you’ll be far more successful in achieving the change you want.

See the original article on Health IT Outcomes.

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