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Hospital Innovators: Find Customer Value, Do the Work, Get Going

By Jim Molpus  
   October 09, 2018

Costs are rising. Reimbursement is shrinking. In this environment, innovation is obligatory. How do you make it happen?

Hospitals and health systems can't wait around to innovate. The health consumer won't wait, and neither will market competitors ranging from Amazon and Walgreens down to the startup entrepreneur who are all poised to take away as much healthcare business as they can.

Competition and value and pace were common topics for presenters at the NEXT Hospital Innovation conference in Dallas on Monday. Health systems, including Baylor Scott & White, Lifebridge, Massachusetts General, Intermountain, Providence-St. Joseph, Atrium, Northwell and others, shared a growing energy and concentration among health systems to innovate. The clear theme: with costs growing and reimbursement shrinking, innovation isn't optional.

Four takeaways from Day 1:

1. Be Quick, But Don't Hurry

Nick Reddy, chief digital officer for Baylor Scott & White Health, said that the national pool of venture capital headed toward healthcare is an estimated $6-8 billion, one of the largest pools of venture capital since the dotcom days.

"The venture capitalists and entrepreneurs are moving in with you or without you," Reddy says. Likewise, the next generation of healthcare consumers "is not going to give us 20 years to fix healthcare."

That said, however, healthcare innovation may be a bit slower to innovate than other industries. "Do no harm is an oath for our industry. It's okay to be careful."

2. If You Are Not Digital by Now…

Embracing digital technology is not a trend, or a strategy. Health systems that have not embraced digital healthcare as a cultural shift may struggle to keep up with increasingly engaged consumers.

From digital tools to manage migraines developed by Atrium Health, to messaging apps that use automated conversations to communicate with patients developed by Northwell, speakers shared that the customers are willing and eager to embrace digital tools. The not-so-secret sauce: make it easy, make it valuable to the customer, and commit.

Baylor Scott & White has rolled out a strategy to "be digital," including the development of MyBSWHealth, an online and mobile portal that allows patients to access medical information, payments, and scheduling. The free app has a rating of 4.7 out of 5 on the AppStore with more than 8,500 reviews, making it one of the highest-rated health apps available, Reddy says.

3. Don't Overlook the Simple, Elegant Solution

Not every innovation needs to be downloaded from Google or the AppStore. Too often hospitals may overshoot the problem with the tool.

Jonathan Ringo, MD, chief operating officer of Sinai Hospital of Baltimore and senior vice president of LifeBridge Health, said an offshore call center developed by Lifebridge has been successful in engaging patients and reducing costs. But they still faced a challenge: getting patients to appointments. The solution was to use Uber and other ride sharing programs, he says.

"We now spend $22,000 per month on Uber to transport patients to their appointments," Ringo says. While ride sharing is not traditionally a cost that health systems embraced, Ringo says "if you can get patients to make their appointments and take their medication, you can dramatically reduce readmission rates."

Related: Collaborative Healthcare Investments Are Next Evolution of Innovation

Overall, LifeBridge has seen a 21.5% reduction in congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder readmissions since the beginning of the program.

Innovation should also look to take away needless pain for patients.

"When empathy is combined with curiosity, that is when we have innovation," says Todd Dunn, director of innovation at Intermountain Healthcare's Transformation Lab. Intermountain was looking for a way to reduce the nearly 500 million inpatient blood draws performed in U.S. hospitals annually. Needle stick blood draws are not only potentially painful but can disrupt sleep for patients in acute care.

Working with San Francisco-based Velano Vascular, Intermountain helped develop and test a needle-free technology called PIVO™, which connects to an existing IV catheter to draw blood from a vein. After initial testing of the device with 15,000 procedures and no adverse events, Intermountain has since rolled out the device to all of its 22 hospitals.

4. Be Merciless in Demanding Value

The stereotype of innovation brings up images of creative people playing with cool ideas and someone else's money. The reality for health system innovation is quite the opposite, speakers said.

"Innovation isn't sexy. It's grunt, hard work," Dunn said.

David Cerino, group vice president of digital innovation at Providence-St. Joseph Health (PSJH) in Seattle, says Providence and its innovation arm Providence Ventures has a disciplined process to evaluate a potential technology. Working with clinical and executive leaders, innovators identify areas of need for the system and evaluate if that technology is available or needs to be built. Part of the logic is that if PSJH needs the technology, "there are probably other systems that need the exact same thing."

Although any evaluation is based on demanding financial and clinical application metrics, PSJH always starts with a simple value question.

"We look at the customer value first," Cerino said. "Consumers, patients, and their caregivers are simply frustrated with their healthcare encounters."

Jim Molpus is an editor for HealthLeaders.

Photo credit: (at top) Todd Dunn, director of innovation at Intermountain Healthcare's Transformation Lab, speaks during the NEXT Hospital Innovation conference in Dallas on Monday. (Jim Molpus/HealthLeaders)

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