How to Make Innovation Work in Healthcare

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Innovation execs from four top health systems shared a stage at ViVE to discuss how they want to change healthcare.

The key to a successful innovation strategy in healthcare is understanding and handling change management.

Executives from four of the most innovative health systems in the country shared the stage at ViVE 2024 Tuesday for a discussion on why they do what they’re doing. And while technology like AI and digital health are on everyone’s agenda, they all noted that nothing new will ever get done unless and until clinicians are ready for it.

“Innovation isn’t about creating or building,” Sara Vaezy, EVP and chief strategy and digital officer at Providence, pointed out. “It’s about a creative way to solve a problem.”

In an industry that has been traditionally reluctant to change, it’s not surprising that innovators face strong headwinds. The ability to clearly define a pain point or problem is vital, as is the ability to explain how one plans on fixing it.

“[Putting] good technology into a bad process is going to fail,” said Rebecca Kaul, PhD, MBA, SVP and chief digital and transformation officer at Northwell Health.

Vaezy and Kaul were joined on the stage by Chris Waugh, Sutter Health’s vice president and chief design and innovation officer, and Michelle Stansbury, vice president of innovation and IT applications at Houston Methodist. And while each has a unique way of approaching innovation, they all share the same understanding that the healthcare industry is in dire need of change. Healthcare organizations are facing workforce shortages across the board, alongside high rates of stress and burnout, cost and reimbursement issues, increasing competition from new entries, and a consumer population unhappy with the status quo and looking for new ways to access the care they want.

And while AI and other tools might eventually address those challenges, the biggest need right now is to, as Kaul said, “put people back in front of people.” In other words, eliminating all the barriers that have cropped up between the patient and the provider, including paperwork, technology, and processes.

Stansbury spoke of the desire to create the smart hospital of the future, and of a system that will deliver as much care outside the hospital as within. Vaezy talked of putting an emphasis on navigation, and creating more convenient pathways for consumers to get to care. And Waugh talked of redefining healthcare to focus more on health.

“We’re going to go to all the places where care doesn’t exist, where actual health is happening,” he said.

To do that, physicians, nurses and others within the industry need to be prepared to embrace change. And healthcare’s decision-makers need to know how to nudge everyone in that direction.

Eric Wicklund is the associate content manager and senior editor for Innovation, Technology, and Pharma for HealthLeaders.

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