By Julie Campbell, Director, Innovation Consulting

At the Connected Health Conference in Boston this year, technology-enabled, person-centered care was at the forefront.  Connected health devices were front and center on the exhibit floor, throughout presentations, and even as a part of the Health Tech Standout! Competition. But attendees also recognized the importance beyond learning about exciting new technologies; they recognized that adopting this kind of change in a health system setting is highly complex.  And one way that innovation can be successfully inspired and adopted is through the development of Innovation Programs.

One panel, titled “Hospital Innovation Cheat Sheet,” brought together hospital innovation leaders to guide the audience through lessons learned as their organizations pushed outside of their comfort zone in digital healthcare. Neil Patel, president of Healthbox, a HIMSS Innovation Company, moderated the elite group of panelists representing their Innovation Programs: Dr. Mark Zhang (Brigham and Women’s Hospital), Sara Silacci (Massachusetts General Hospital), Sara Vaezy (Providence St. Joseph Health), and Paul Cerrato (medical journalist). Here are some of the success factors discussed by the panel, along with Healthbox’s perspective on successful Innovation Programs.


  • Use the five ‘p’s’ of innovation to structure a successful strategy that opens the door to external and internal innovation: prioritize, pitch, partner, pilot, and prove. Prioritization along the organization’s strategies is critical. Pitch the solution and the value proposition. Identify partners to carry it through.  Pilot with a purpose and an understanding of what will be considered a success.  And prove the solution works by measuring outcomes and stakeholder satisfaction.


  • Sara from Providence St. Joseph (PSJ) detailed a very analytical approach to prioritization of the organization’s problems. After aligning the digital priorities with strategic goals and doing market sizing for projects internally, they identified and prioritized 99 areas that they are working through.  As one priority is addressed, the next priority starts to be worked on.  As Neil Patel properly synthesized, “You have 99 problems, but prioritization isn’t one.”


  • Define the scope of your program. You can’t meet program expectations if you haven’t clearly defined the scope and goals.  And make sure that you continue to re-evaluate the scope as your organization’s priorities and resources change over time. For PSJ, Sara’s scope within the 200-person program is focused on consumer-facing digital technologies.  At Brigham and Women’s Health (BWH), the 6-year-old i-Hub program is already transitioning into version 3.0, moving away from the foundational work toward applied digital transformation.


  • Source innovation from the outside (i.e. start-ups, established healthcare companies) and the inside (i.e. employees). It is important to have an avenue for each of these. It is also critical to have a structure in place that supports the increasing need for a combination of these two- partnerships and co-developments.


  • Don’t source innovation in a bubble. If you are inspiring your employees and teaching them the right skills, they can be an excellent source for identifying problems and brainstorming solutions.  As a critical stakeholder in many digital health solutions, patients can also inspire great innovation.


  • Be open to the innovations coming from the outside. Partners Healthcare has developed an intake process for start-ups to submit a request for meetings and consideration-  It is a great source of market intelligence, as well as potential innovation opportunities.


  • Build as a last resort. Internal development should only be pursued after the idea has passed a very high bar. There must be a gap in the market, and the market size should be sufficiently large before moving forward with internal development.  When that is not the case, consider what solutions already exist or what co-development could produce.


  • Secure the right champions and the funding upfront. To be successful, Mark at BWH requires three things: 1) a clinical champion, 2) an operational champion, and 3) a funding source.  If you are missing any one of these, forward momentum and adoption will be unsuccessful.


  • Don’t expect the same level of evidence to be available for early innovations. Paul Cerrato has seen a fear of innovation adoption in healthcare due to a lack of evidence.  But innovation does not have to be a change to a standard of care. It is essential to know where the solution is on the evidence pyramid and determine what level of evidence and risk are acceptable.


  • “Be ready to fail, but fail responsibly.”- Sara from Massachusetts General Hospital provided important clarification. Innovation is inherently accompanied by failure. It is a rite of passage and an important learning function.  Failure should be accepted and even expected.  However, it is our responsibility to fail fast and shield our patients from the negative impact of these failures.


  • Don’t expect innovation to happen overnight. BWH and PSJ have both had established Innovation Programs for over 5 years. But meaningful innovation takes time.  Innovation in healthcare, generally, isn’t delivering at scale yet.  Sara at PSJ indicated that broad, system-wide adoption of digital health technologies has occurred since the inception of the program, but only for 3-4 technologies.  The focus must be on developing the right product and process upfront, and then outcomes will eventually follow.


Innovation programs are not one-size-fits-all.  It is important for the organization to define the innovation intent and goals to design the right program.  These tips serve as a guide from those who have seen success and failures in healthcare innovation.  While there is no shortage of activity, organizations face challenges in designing meaningful engagements with measurable outcomes.

Healthbox can help organizations move beyond the hype to develop successful, impact-driven programs. Learn more today: Healthbox Innovation Programs.

Health System Innovation Cheat Sheet


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