The Future Of Innovation In Healthcare

Dr Lynne Maher

None of us is as smart as all of us.

Phil Condit- CEO Boeing

The future of innovation in healthcare is bright. We already have much to celebrate in our 60 year history. Many traditional surgical methods have been replaced by less invasive keyhole methods, new diagnostic techniques even negate the need for surgery altogether. Information technology has revolutionised the use of data across the NHS and improvement efforts have led to massive improvements. Of course there is still more to do but I am optimistic because I see two big themes emerging strongly. One is an increased emphasis on innovation in healthcare services to match the focus on technology and devices. The second is recognition of the importance of a deliberate process for innovation that can be used by all rather than the assumption that innovation is a result of a few clever people who sit in an isolated room and come up with all of the ideas.

Both themes are connected. Tom Kelly from the design firm IDEO makes the point that “companies that want to succeed at innovation will need new insights. New Viewpoints. And new roles”. I would add; these in turn will bring new ideas about how to provide improved services. Most ‘innovative’ organisations do have a specific process, some quite defined and some less so but nevertheless embedded in routines. A common feature of innovation processes is to encourage exploration outside of traditional mindsets. This means making creative connections with other industries, some of which we would not usually associate with our own. This trend is increasingly being used in healthcare and we have found that ideas which may be commonplace in other industries can have a significant positive impact when applied in a healthcare context.

One example of this is a recent collaboration between a cardiac team from Great Ormond Children’s hospital and the pit crew from Ferrari, the formula one racing team. By transferring knowledge about team working, from these completely different industries, there has been a radical improvement in the efficiency and safety of the transfer of children from the operating theatre to the intensive care unit (cited in Thinking Differently 2008). Lean processes traditionally used within manufacturing have been adapted for healthcare resulting in more effective and efficient services that have reduced waste and improved the level of value added time for patients. Similarly our relationship with service designers has exposed the NHS to powerful tools and techniques which although commonly used within service design were new within the health service. One of these is the power of observation, not in the style that clinicians are expert in, where their skills are honed to link symptoms with diagnosis, but observation based on anthropological principles. This has helped teams to better understand what is really happening in the front line of care which is now resulting in new design solutions providing exceptional health service experiences.

Using a specific innovation processes which encourages us to look outside our traditional mindsets and make creative connections with other industries enable us to transform services for millions of patients.

Article © 2009 Dr Lynne Maher. All rights reserved.

about the author...

Dr Lynne Maher

Dr Lynne Maher

affiliation:   Nhs Institute For Innovation And Improvement

position:  Head of Innovation Practice

country:  United Kingdom

area of interest:  Innovation in the health service

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