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CEO Exchange: 7 Thoughts On Innovation

Analysis  |  By Philip Betbeze  
   November 16, 2017

During recent roundtable sessions on innovation, CEOs say it can be done in healthcare, but it's their job to help remove the barriers.

Hospitals and health systems aren't typically known for innovation.

Incremental improvement: check. Making strides in healthcare quality: sometimes. Inefficiency and overregulation: Definitely.

Nevertheless, innovation can be found there.

We discussed innovation at the roundtable sessions at the sixth annual HealthLeaders Media CEO Exchange event in Austin, Texas, because we wanted to know how the healthcare industry's top leaders are setting the stage for improvement, such as new approaches to efficiency, quality, and overcoming its heavy regulatory burden, among other issues.

The CEO Exchange is an invitation-only event, and the folks who join us are the cream of the crop, people who aren't afraid to shake up their business models to better compete in modern healthcare.

The CEOs didn't fail to come up with themes, ideas, and suggestions to foster a work environment conducive to innovation. Below are some paraphrased thoughts those CEOs voiced during the roundtable discussions about what they think about innovation and why they are open to it.

  1. Innovation comes from a relentless drive to make things better, but that drive has to be nurtured. Healthcare organizations are change-averse even though, in large part, their leaders feel they're moving forward at a pace they can't possibly keep up with. It's the CEO's job to nurture innovative thinking by finding ways to better communicate with employees. It's the CEO's job to make sure they don't feel intimidated, and if employees have ideas for improvement … leadership finds a way to say yes.
  2. What differentiates an organization should give it a competitive advantage over others. Let innovation be one of those differentiators.
  1. Innovation means looking outside the four walls of the hospital. Innovation is "out there," so to speak. One CEO says that at his organization, if they're going to invest in innovation, it's in the outpatient arena. To reinforce that sentiment, once a week, the leaders sit down and have a conversation about where to invest "out there."
  2. Innovation, for some, is about redefining who they are at a brand, service offering, or mission fulfillment level by developing a direct connection to what the consumer is asking for. That's entirely new for much of healthcare services.
  3. Innovation is historically something that's disruptive. People with great ideas define the organization. By bringing together people to brainstorm new ideas, the CEO doesn't necessarily develop a franchise in great ideas, but you set the stage as an organization to be a laboratory for this kind of work.
  4. You can't necessarily be intentionally innovative, but you can set up groups of people to succeed in innovation. At its core, innovation comes from teams trying to solve a problem together. Groups bring a spark of creativity that isn't necessarily present at the individual level.
  5. One CEO talked about how, in theory, they developed an "easy" button. If something looks feasible, safe, and has a limited financial downside for a pilot, they let those with good ideas try, even without a business plan. That releases other people's energy toward innovation.

The "easy button" is a great idea, but true innovation is anything but easy. Building a culture of innovation is squishy, murky, and can't be broken down into a database or spreadsheet. But as healthcare is increasingly counted on to deliver value, today's top CEOs know innovation is essential. And if they're not intimately involved in nurturing it, well, they're simply not doing the job they were hired to do. 

Philip Betbeze is the senior leadership editor at HealthLeaders.

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