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How Northwell Health Sparks Innovation and Engagement

   June 01, 2016

Northwell Ventures—a program that evaluates, develops, and finances spin-off companies based on ideas from Northwell physicians and researchers—asked the health system's community to choose its next project to fund.

Imagine a world where 3D bioprinters are in every hospital emergency department, allowing physicians to create life-saving implants, organs, and bones from patients' own tissues.

Now, imagine a health system that is not only investing in developing that technology, but investing in it because the health system's community voted for it.

It's a powerful message that was expertly executed by Northwell Health with its Innovations Contest.

Back in March, the former North Shore-LIJ Health System launched a contest asking its community to help decide which of three medical innovations developed by some of its 61,000+ employees would receive $100,000 in additional research support.

The three innovations, which were being explored by Northwell Ventures—a program that evaluates, develops and finances spin-off companies based on ideas that originate with Northwell physicians, researchers, and other employees—were:

  • The Patient Identification Shield, a temporary stamp that represents a modern, non-transferable, easily removable, cost-effective alternative to the ubiquitous but antiquated "hospital wrist band" for patient identification.
  • The Blood Loss Manager, a previously unknown bioelectronic medicine approach to manage bleeding that works so rapidly it may one day be used for those suffering traumatic injuries, either patients in a hospital, military personnel on the battlefield, or civilian first responders.
  • A 3D bioprinter, a modified 3D printer that was engineered to produce three-dimensional, living, functional, biological tissue replacement using a patient's own cells.

An Integrated, Viral Campaign

The contest, which ran March 21 to April 18, was promoted with an integrated marketing campaign, consisting of TV spots that ran during the NCAA Championship games, digital ads, and social media. The uniqueness of the contest was quick to pique the public's interest and received a good amount of media coverage as a result.

"This was a unique opportunity to engage with the public and let them choose an innovation that could affect healthcare in their lifetime," says Ramon Soto, Northwell's chief marketing officer. "We used engaging creative and message delivery to break through and were quite surprised by the response."

The response was impressive—a total of 487,761 votes were cast in one month, with about half going to the winning 3D bioprinting project.

What's more, the campaign received about 7.5 million digital impressions, resulting in more than 400,000 people viewing the innovation videos online.

"At nearly a half-million votes and the $1 million external investment, we were quite pleased with the market awareness generated through the campaign," Soto says.

An Innovative Brand Identity

Ultimately, the initiative generated more than market awareness. It cemented Northwell's brand identity as an innovative organization.

Not only did the contest educate the community on the innovative work going on at the health system, but it created engagement in and excitement about the process.

"There is a cultural fit here; we never stop looking for innovation," Soto says.

"We employ 2,200 principal researchers whose mission it is to advance the state of healthcare. Once employees and the public could get involved in choosing the next breakthrough we could fund, there was a tremendous amount of excitement."

Soto and his team are brainstorming ways to build on the momentum of the contest, which turned out to be a strong employee engagement tool, generating pride among clinicians and staff.  

Marketers are planning on expanding the program and holding a series of contest. They are also considering an Xprize-like contest, where the public would submit ideas for consideration and funding.

"It is still a very early stage for us regarding next steps," Soto says.

Marianne Aiello is a contributing writer at HealthLeaders Media.

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