innovation capability

How Three Innovation Leaders Are Transforming Healthcare

A Conversation, Re-Capped

June 9, 2015
by Sophie Spiers

Last Tuesday, June 2nd, Continuum hosted its second executive event and panel discussion on healthcare: “Building an Innovative Healthcare Organization” (or, in social media speak, #innovationcapability).

Our three panelists came with diverse backgrounds in the healthcare realm. Chris McCarthy has worked for over thirteen years at the massive, California-based managed care consortium, Kaiser Permanente, where he serves as a Specialist and Co-Lead of their Innovation Consultancy. McCarthy’s passion for innovation also drove him to found the Innovation Learning Network (ILN), a network of healthcare systems, foundations, firms, and companies that aims to “make healthcare better through good design.”

Ed Boudrot is the Vice President of Product Strategy and Management at Optum, a health services and innovation company that combines data and analytics with technology and expertise to power modern healthcare. Bringing his background in technology startups, Boudrot specializes in the innovation of experiences, products, and solutions, and works to integrate human-centered design, market research, product management, development practices, and experience management.

Adam Dole worked in D.C. as a Presidential Innovation Fellow, and spent three years as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Mayo Clinic before launching his current venture, Better, a San-Francisco-based startup that leverages the power of human relationships with the necessity of technology. Better’s technology connects patients to a Personal Health Assistant, who supports and guides them through their care experience via their smartphone. Dole serves as Vice President of Strategy.

Continuum’s own Vice President of Program Development, Augusta Meill, moderated the discussion, which was kicked off with an introduction by Jon Campbell, Principal and Innovation Capability Lead.

The panel began with a conversation about change. Can we ascribe a common language to such a complex word? For Boudrot, creating change means infusing a company’s DNA with innovation. He noted that inspiring change within an organization is “how we change the world one small piece at a time.”

At the core of any company are its people. In healthcare, both patients and employees form this core. Healthcare companies cannot just be patient-centered, McCarthy explained—they need to also be human-centered. He emphasized the linkage that exists between change and human experiences, apart from and regardless of the “language of change.” The language of change may vary within organizations, but human needs and experiences are at the core of innovation. Both employees and patients crave health and healing, and so, as McCarthy stated, tapping into these “natural desires” is what will motivate innovation within a healthcare organization.

In a sphere where divides between employees and patients can diminish innovation efforts, it is necessary to “provide something that is really wanted.” At Kaiser Permanente, McCarthy researches, designs, and implements multi-hospital innovations in perinatal services, nurse shift changes, and medication administration. Working across these various disciplines has given him insight into how to engage a company’s people across the board. When innovation occurs, KP presents innovation as the “bare bones solution” that can be tailored to fit the needs of diverse clinics and patients. Condensing user research to a period of three to five days, KP tries to present techniques that people can bring into their own clinics or homes and tailor to fit their varying needs.

The panelists discussed tactics they have used to lessen the divide between organizations and their beneficiaries. At Optum, Boudrot works to transform the health system by improving care delivery, quality, and cost-effectiveness through innovative technology and experiences. Achieving these goals means breaking down the company’s silos and shifting its mindsets from product management to experience management. Boudrot emphasized the importance of this shift, stating outright that “there is no such thing as product management. It’s all experience management.” While he admitted it’s a statement that not all agree with, Boudrot was adamant in his belief that healthcare companies must stay attuned to the true needs of patients. Patients care about issues like spending more time with their families, and deciphering their bills – costs and benefits are not where there focuses lie. As Boudrot explained, identifying the “true pains” of patients and “fitting the human need” is how a healthcare company can create “great outcomes.”

Optum’s new program, Fusion, trains innovators to come up with these great outcomes. The program packages workshops and trainings for new innovators, and teaches journey mapping and persona skills. The hope is that these trainings will lead to human-centered solutions that can prevent humans from becoming “patients.”

Dole’s work also channels this human centered approach. The team at Better aims to make the health system feel more human and less complex. By helping people achieve the health outcomes that matter most to them, Better adds an element of accessibility to the healthcare system. Giving people the experiences they want from their healthcare necessitates actions over discussion. Better’s goal is to raise the bar for the healthcare system by empowering patients to become consumers of healthcare. The most self-aware companies, Dole said, have iteration processes that lead them closer to solutions, as opposed to strategy discussions that detract from concrete action.

Part of Kaiser Permanente’s call to action is a revamp of its previous innovation strategies. Its current strategy, Innovation 2.0, focuses on spreading valuable solutions across the system, and asks the question, “Can we approach Kaiser Permanente in a different way?” McCarthy talked about an experience he had observing these interactions, and noted how these observations unveiled specific needs for both patients and employees that had not been at the forefront of the company’s focus. The company could then take these observations and shift its focus to creating desirable solutions. Enabling lasting change for a company and for its consumers requires both a shift in focus, as well as a shift in energy.

Changing a corporate culture, as Boudrot noted, takes a lot of work. Dole described three steps to facilitating an internal change. First, leaders—through hiring—must set the right expectations for their employees. Second, employees need to be held accountable, and companies need to assure that their employees understand the pace of the company’s trajectory. Third, companies need to support their decisions and “next moves” with concrete data—new features need to be tested in small cohorts to evaluate if they really are meeting an organization’s expectations. Maintaining open communication between employers and employees is especially important for healthcare companies, whose changes and innovations have lasting effects on patients and third-party beneficiaries. When a third-party is involved, Dole’s approach to testing and evaluating becomes even more necessary.

So, how does an organization—especially one in the healthcare industry—know when it is ready to change, and how can we measure the impact of innovation?

Boudrot spoke about embracing new mindsets. Innovation, he said, is “less about knowing the answer and more about the willingness to experiment.”

Change is not easy, nor is it always fluid and efficient. However, as Dole concluded, “the risk of not doing is worse,” especially when people’s health and well-being are at stake.

A rich conversation that is by no means complete, the panel discussion uncovered how persistent risk-taking, openness to change, and measured patience are the hallmarks of #innovationcapability in healthcare.

filed in: innovation capability, healthcare