Four Things Every Innovation Program Needs to Succeed

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When searching for the best new idea in healthcare it's common to look outward for inspiration, but sometimes the best idea is right at your doorstep.  Intermountain Healthcare maintains a series of channels within our organization that encourages our own doctors, nurses, clinicians, and staff to explore, test, and even commercialize their ideas for improving the care they provide to patients.

Getting the last part of the process right—commercialization—can be tricky, so I sat down with my Intermountain Innovations team to get their insights. This group of dedicated women and men work with Intermountain caregivers to take vetted ideas and turn them into products and services that can be shared in the marketplace. They ensure that physicians and patients benefit from the medical advancements taking place right within the walls of Intermountain Healthcare facilities.

My team agreed that in order to run a successful innovation program within any organization, and especially a health delivery system, you need to cultivate four key things: dedication, culture, quality, and funding.

Dedication

It is important to understand the benefit of having a dedicated innovation program within your organization. Innovation programs allow you to identify, evaluate, and coordinate employees' ideas and inventions that may have commercial potential in a systematic and transparent way. Commercializing your employees' ideas bring increased awareness of your organization within the broader healthcare community and, most importantly, it supports efforts to improve healthcare for all patients, even those outside of your geographic scope. Organizations need to ensure that dedicated time and resources are spent addressing the challenging process of developing ideas into actual practice.

Culture

In order to really be successful at running a high value innovation program, you need to have a culture that embraces innovative thinking and exploration. Establishing this culture, both within your program and within the broader organization, requires a commitment. Innovation needs to be a part of the organization's core strategy not just an addition to an existing strategy. Leadership must support innovation in both words and actions. Part of this process includes establishing a culture where the right incentives are in place to motivate and reward inventors and entrepreneurs within your organization.

Quality

The quality of the product cannot be forgotten when running an innovation program. We advice anyone who is commercializing a new idea that they first consider the problem that their innovation with solve. Will it really "move the needly" when compared to existing solutions? Does it fit into existing workflows? Will it meet healthcare's dual needs of improving care and reducing cost? These questions must be critically considered before moving forward. Additionally, innovators must understand that success, learning, and insight usually come after "failing" many times. The best products often emerge out of trial and error.

Funding

It is very important to set appropriate expectations when it comes to funding, and to showcase the reason why an innovation is worth the investment. There will always be competition for scarce resources, so expect pushback. Think of funding innovation as increasing the value of your organization, much like the principal portion of a mortgage payment increases the equity you have in your home--without it, you're just treading water. Fostering innovation within healthcare is hard, especially when the innovation is disruptive, but it's worth it. At the end of the day it's about helping people live the healthiest lives possible and that is worth all the work.