Innovation Should Be Simple

by Matty Francis02-12-2018

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Innovation Should Be Simple

Innovation should be simple.

You can witness technology evolve at a breakneck pace by observing popular technology trends. The iPod was launched in late 2001, and less than 6 years later, the launch of the iPhone rendered the iPod effectively obsolete. Google’s Deep Learning initiative only supported two projects in 2012, and now the program boasts more than 1,000 active projects. Surprisingly, technology adoption in healthcare has progressed at a similarly breakneck pace. EHR adoption increased nine-fold from 2008- 2015 (1) – in 2008, patients may have been surprised to see their doctor enter notes on a computer, and today, they complain that doctors spend too much time looking at screens.  

It’s no secret that the rapid adoption of technology hasn’t moved us much closer to achieving the quadruple aim. Technology has driven tremendous cost and productivity improvements in a number of other industries, so why not healthcare? It’s largely because technology has dramatically simplified workflows in other industries. Hotel and airline bookings used to required phone calls with travel agents, and now it’s a few clicks on a web application or a few taps on a smartphone app. Healthcare technology on the other hand, has only added complexity to the system. We’ve gone from analog to digital, simply because that was the financial imperative, not because workflows became simpler. To adopt new technology in a sustainable way, healthcare organizations must use the new technology to reduce the complexity of the system. The typical 9-18 month sales cycle for most health IT tools is the real-world proof of overly complex technology adoption processes. It shouldn’t take longer to buy $50,000 worth of digital health technology than to build a $1 billion company (2).

Embrace Simple Technology

If you ever find yourself being pitched the phrase “then the physician clicks into our web application to…” or “then the nurse opens up our iOS app” you’re fighting a losing battle when it comes to simplicity. Asking a clinician to click through a few screens on a new application might not seem like a massive ask, but as you well know, PCP visits are shortening as physicians are asked to increase patient throughput. If an app requires just a minute or two to enter or receive information, that’s potentially 10%-15% of the patient encounter! 

Simplifying technologies should achieve one or both of these objectives:

  1. Eliminate steps from existing clinician workflows
  2. Increase the efficiency or speed of your clinicians as they complete workflows

Eliminating steps from an existing workflow doesn’t necessarily mean that the task is no longer completed, but rather the task is automated, so the process is completed in the background. Speed and efficiencies can also be gained by taking a page out of manufacturing’s playbook. Repetitive tasks can be batched together, enabling clinicians to minimize the time spent toggling back and forth between applications. 

Simplify Your Process for Adopting External Technologies

At Healthbox, we frequently see health systems struggle to adopt technology because there is no single path for startups to approach the hospital. This means that some companies are pitching VPs of Strategy, while others are approaching the head of Population Health, and still others are pitching influential physicians directly. While these stakeholders very well may need to be intimately involved in the technology adoption process, offering a single “front-door” to the external technology world enables health systems to develop standard processes for vetting, prioritizing, and implementing new technologies. A consistent process for engaging with external companies will not only shorten the time from initial conversations to go-live, but also improve the quality of your organization’s decision-making over time, as you’re able to measure success and drive accountability.

Simplify Your Process for Developing Internal Technologies

 If one of your organization’s strategic goals is to foster a culture of innovation, don’t make innovation hard on your employees and affiliated physicians. To allow innovative ideas to develop, your organization must build a place for ideas to go for support. Across the technology landscape, there are cautionary tales of former employees starting successful independent companies after finding zero institutional support to further refine the idea. To minimize this type of future regret, it’s critical for organizations to create and more importantly market to employees an office that is charged with matching ideas and resources. It’s unrealistic to expect every idea to resolve a major healthcare challenge, but a simple idea/resource clearinghouse will increase the likelihood of creating some sort of serendipitous event in the future.

The challenges we collectively face in healthcare are tough enough as they currently stand. Let’s not add another degree of difficulty by increasing complexity. 

Embrace the simple.

This article was written for Healthbox by Matty Francis.

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