True Innovation in the Healthcare Industry

True Innovation in the Healthcare Industry

By Lynn Gibson, CTO/VP, CHRISTUS Health

Lynn Gibson, CTO/VP, CHRISTUS Health

In healthcare, many connect innovation to technology. It is easy to recognize the advancements in healthcare over the many decades. The recognition that microorganisms were responsible for so many diseases came from the use of new technology. The development of new drugs such as penicillin has come from technology. The ability to detect tumors and abnormalities in the body through imaging comes from technology. In the 1990s, the concept of an electronic health record was just a dream. Advances in information technology that provided both processing speeds and affordable storage have now given the promise a reality. The improvements in reliability and processes have made the electronic record a valuable part of the clinician’s daily business practice.

Yet innovation does not always come from technology. In the 1920s following a series of challenges, the first health insurance plan was created in Dallas, Texas that began the ability to provide healthcare to school teachers. Decades later, faced with a shortage of nurses, a healthcare organization created a new staffing model that allowed for nurses that could not work all week for one reason or another to be given the compensation equal to a full-time employee thus opening a new source of staffing. Again, this innovation which was adopted around the United States was not born in technology.

"Innovation has different meanings to different people. The Oxford English dictionary defines innovation as the action or process of innovating. When used as a noun it is a new method, idea, product, etc. Which leads to the reality that innovation in the business of healthcare can come in a form of technology, process, or even strategy. Hence the different meanings that people have of innovation."

As we approach 2020, the word innovation has become a mantra by many, but what should we to truly expect. Companies will incorporate the term in every marketing document they produce. The government will provide research grants. Industry will make investments within their company to company’s research divisions so they can tout it to their stockholders. Academia will create focused efforts to have their young minds find new approaches. Yet if history repeats itself, the innovations that we are truly expecting that will disrupt the normal business of healthcare will come from unlikely places.

Today’s pundits raise concepts such as blockchain, artificial intelligence, and synthetic biology are being touted as the innovative disruptive sources to healthcare. These advances will no doubt bring changes to the healthcare world. The consultants bring phrases such as “think out of box”; “remove the boundaries”; “use agile practices to make iterative improvements”. It is most likely that influences of significant innovations will not come from these inspirations. Real innovations are born from needs.

Healthcare in the United States is pressed for cost reductions. Healthcare in Europe is being faced with new confidentiality and privacy requirements. Healthcare all over the world is being asked to be more available and more convenient. At the same time, there are constant efforts by criminals to acquire individual healthcare information thus making healthcare a major target for cyberattacks regardless of where you live. Inside these needs are the needs for innovation. Perhaps history does tell us that new innovations seem to come from a change in perspectives. Are we trying to maintain everything in the same paradigm that we have always known thing to be. What would have happened if Steve Jobs had tried to only create a new portable recorder?

If we think of the early expectations of the computer, from the first productive use of computer technology in healthcare (which was not clinical but around revenue billing) back into the 1970s, the end users never would imagine or have expectations higher than what the technology was capable of doing. Then along comes desktop PCs, the Internet and the first browsers. Somewhere along the 1990s, the expectation of the user began to exceed the expectations of the technology and the challenge was on for the industry.

With the ever increasing number of apps for tablets and smart phones, the expectations of the consumer of healthcare will soon cross over to what mobility can bring to the home bedside and what the health profession will have to adapt to providing. Imaging innovation coming in a form of a paper suit that has been lined with electronic ink. You purchase this at your local pharmacy/drug store along with a nanobot programmed bill that you swallow and it is programmed to travel to the portion(s) of your body and transmit signals along its path to be picked up by the suit that sends data to an app on your tablet. Now you have a body scan in the privacy of your home for what could be a third of the price of the same done at some strange center where you did not have to disrobe in a strange place around strange people. Sound far-fetched? The various components exist today and in use at different industries. Some smart individuals need to only piece it together and suddenly you have a disruptive technology that will change the clinical imaging field.

The timeline on which innovation is happening is seen by many as becoming rapidly shorten and moving much faster than it has ever done in the past. Perhaps it is our perspective. Think about what the children of the Great Depression saw before they begin to move to the next stage of life: World War, nuclear bombs, computers, penicillin, MRIs, a man walk on the moon, lasers, in vitro fertilization, and the list goes on forever. We are seeing new innovations every day and the children being born today will only see the advances of the past as the standards for tomorrow. Imagine what they will consider innovation and what they will bring into our world! Will they see a disease free world? Will they see a world with faster mending solutions to broken bones or better invasive surgeries? We can only hope and dream but of course, that is where innovations begin is it.

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