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Big Innovation Ideas for Smaller Hospitals

By Mandy Roth  
   September 27, 2019

Hospital executives at the HealthLeaders CEO Exchange share their approaches to innovation. Commitment is more important than system size.

PARK CITY, Utah — Innovation is not a lofty concept reserved only for only the nation's largest healthcare systems, say a number of senior healthcare executives participating in the HealthLeaders CEO Exchange in Utah this week. Leaders at smaller facilities say they share a commitment to innovation, but may have to get creative about their approach.  This might include partnering with external resources, maximizing opportunities created through mergers, or focusing on telemedicine.

Several CEOs shared their approaches with HealthLeaders during the Exchange. Keep an eye on our website next week for additional ideas and thoughts about innovation from executives attending the event, which features a series of roundtables for peer-to-peer discussions.

Partnering with External Resources

Innovation is one of Bellin's five core values, says Chris Woleske, president and CEO of Bellin Health, Green Bay, Wisconsin, but "because of our size [167 beds], our approach is probably a little bit different than larger organizations." While the hospital does not have its own innovation center, it partners and collaborates with external resources to develop "innovative solutions to problems in a variety of contexts," she says.

  • Bellin is exploring partnership opportunities with a local resource known as Titletown Tech, a concept developed by the Green Bay Packers and Microsoft Corporation to boost economic expansion by bringing world-class digital innovations and expertise to the community. It includes an innovation lab, a venture studio, and a venture fund.
    Titletown Tech serves as a "potential partner for us in developing some innovative approaches to things that are intractable problems for healthcare," says Woleske.
  • In addition, Bellin participates in AboutHealth, a collaborative initiative between six Wisconsin health systems designed to deliver more consistent, reliable, high-quality healthcare at more affordable costs through accountability, innovation, and collaboration. Other members include Aspiris, Advocate Aurora Health, Gunderson Health System, ProHealth Care, and ThedaCare.
  • Woleske says Bellin also is working on formalizing a relationship with a national entity that will help spur innovation, but was not yet ready to disclose the name.

Maximizing Opportunities Created Through a Merger

Eighteen months ago after merging with Atlanta-based Piedmont Healthcare, his facilities are finding new ways to innovate, says Scott Hill, CEO of Piedmont Columbus Regional, which operates two hospitals with a total of 683 beds.

"Piedmont has a lot of resources they bring to bear on the hospitals they affiliate with," says Hill. This summer, that meant the Columbus facilities were able to launch online physician scheduling, as well as wayfinding services through the health system's app. Those services did not yet exist in the Columbus community, says Hill—innovations he refers to as "transformational."

Because Hill sits on Piedmont's senior leadership team, he says his hospitals have a voice at the table and that ideas generated in Columbus are now gaining new life at other Piedmont facilities.  Has the affiliation accelerated the hospital's ability to innovation? "There is no doubt," says Hill.

Optimizing Use of Telemedicine

How can a 25-bed critical access hospital with 10 clinics innovate? Jeremy Davis CEO of Grande Ronde Hospital and Clinics, La Grande, Oregon, acknowledges that his system may not be breaking new ground on a national scale, but by bringing robust telemedicine services to his facilities, patients are able to receive top-notch care. Davis points out that unlike many other rural facilities, Grande Ronde, which is situated in a picturesque rural town of about 13,000 in the northeastern corner of the state, is financially stable.  

"The key for us is not that telemedicine is a new innovation, but we've embraced it," Davis says. Grande Ronde uses the technology for hospitalists and intensivists, as well as to bring specialists to outpatient settings.

"It has allowed us to further our mission and keep more patients local," he says. "We've had countless experiences of patients who have been able to stay in town with their family at their bedside that you just can't put a price on. As we continue to look at innovation and ultimately, creativity, we hope to find other methods and platforms to allow us to provide quality care right at home."

The HealthLeaders CEO Exchange gathers leading hospital and health system CEOs for peer-to-peer dialogues about the critical issues their organizations face. For more information about this annual event, please email

Mandy Roth is the innovations editor at HealthLeaders.

Photo credit: Staff

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