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The Eye of the Innovation Storm

By Regina Sheridan

I live in the eye of an innovative storm. The push for innovative thinking and “disruptive” technologies is almost palpable in the San Francisco Bay Area. With Silicon Valley heavyweights churning out new technologies, top-tier universities training young professionals with skills of the future, and leading healthcare institutions pioneering cutting-edge research, I am often amazed by the brilliant ideas introduced to the public. Innovation is increasingly being looked to as a way to solve some of society’s most difficult problems, so I’m not surprised that the push for innovation has become more and more visible in the healthcare field.

Innovation labs and testing hubs are launching across the Bay Area. Last month, Samsung Electronics announced a new partnership with the University of California, San Francisco to launch the UCSF-Samsung Digital Health Innovation Lab to develop and test new technologies that have healthcare applications. The Center for Care Innovations recently established a network of three Innovation Centers for the Safety Net designed to test, evaluate and spread new ideas to improve the healthcare safety net system. In addition, Kaiser Permanente’s Garfield Innovation Center, established in 2006, is widely known as one of the largest health care innovation centers in the United States (take a virtual tour).

Through my work at Informing Change, I have had the opportunity to talk with healthcare providers on the front lines of “ideating, prototyping and testing” new projects to improve care. Some ideas focus on improving the patient experience through text messaging with patients, conducting virtual videoconference visits, and the like. Others utilize electronic health systems, health information exchanges and other tools to use data for better patient care. Still others desire to better coordinate care through  e-consultation or referral systems to connect patients to specialists. Regardless of the type of project, staff at California community health centers note common lessons about testing and piloting ideas:

  • Start small, test ideas, and then expand. “Sometimes we think too much instead of just diving in to start smart and small.”
  • Be prepared to evolve and adapt to reach your ultimate goal. “The innovation process by definition is going to be messy.”
  • Use technology as a tool to facilitate innovation. “Lots of innovative ideas involve technology. We want to take advantage of technology and not be afraid of it.”
  • Maintain momentum for innovation and clarify the reasons for change. “Staff need to understand the ‘why’ behind the changes.”
  • Carefully select an incubator or “micro-innovation” team to pilot new ideas. “In an innovation project, choose staff carefully; they will need to be comfortable with things being unsettled.”
  • Align innovation with broader organizational change when change muscles are already being flexed. “Innovation is something we are rapidly involved in as we transition to becoming a federally qualified health center.”