It's Harder Than You Think

Innovation occurs when one idea crosses into another, disciplines overlap, a product is created and refined, and a problem is solved.  So says Dr. Toby Cosgrove – President and CEO, Cleveland Clinic in the Modern Healthcare July 11, 2016 – 40th Anniversary Issue

As a highly siloed industry, healthcare is distressingly susceptible to tunnel vision.  The good news is that creative entrepreneurs are breaking the mold of how we think about care delivery.  Many technology innovations originate from three sectors:

·         Technology

·         Business

·         Clinical Care

Each realm brings refreshing, unique insights, thus supporting Dr. Cosgrove’s model. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that, in their enthusiasm to innovate, developers run the risk of overlooking the stark realities of how hard it is to get breakthroughs embraced.  In my 30+ years working with hospitals, I have seen many fine ideas derailed because their promoters didn’t adequately circumvent implementation difficulties.  The old cliché of turning around a battleship probably understates the difficulty of getting healthcare to change its ways.

Here are a couple of insights about each of these groups:

·         Technology – Technologists are typically logical, orderly, linear thinkers.  They see a problem, develop a solution, try to implement it, and expect to see progress.  Unfortunately, the swirling worlds of healthcare regulation, payment complexities, operational constraints, and internal hospital politics complicate adoption to an alarming degree.

·         Business – The business approach is similar to the technology one:  see an opportunity, develop a solution, and execute it.  What’s not to get?  Once again, the realities of the healthcare climate can torpedo even the best ideas.

·         Clinical Care – This one is surprising.  You would think highly intelligent people who grew up professionally within the hospital climate would intuitively understand how to successfully deploy technology breakthroughs.  Not always.  For example, I spoke with one disappointed physician whose very good clinical product got almost no traction.  “I thought the clinical value of my idea would carry the day,” she commented.  Sorry.   She had three problems: 

o   Her clinical area was “minor” compared to such disciplines as cardiology or orthopedics

o   She had no demonstrated ROI

o   Despite working in hospitals for more than 20 years, she underestimated the difficulty of the implementation process

So where does this leave us?  With the sobering reality that adoption is typically far more complex than the entrepreneur realizes.  To succeed, you must expend at least as much energy to cracking the implementation nut as you do in developing your solution.