Need for Innovations in Healthcare

The costs of healthcare per capita in many countries, including Poland, are growing every year, and yet the healthcare systems tend to be criticized by patients and healthcare professionals as inadequate and insufficient. The discussion concerning possible solutions usually center around increases in funding. Although this might be a way out, it definitely cannot constitute the only solution. Healthcare systems around the world have proven cash hungry and will utilize any funding it can get. Not all is lost, however.

Process Innovations are High-Impact

With significant increases in life span and diseases of affluence, innovations in healthcare have never been more desired. And although we are likely to notice innovations in drugs or other health products, we rarely notice innovations in the area of organizations and processes. No wonder, since these are usually hidden from the sight of patients and underappreciated by physicians, with subtle, yet profound influence on solving target problems. Although not as conspicuous and valued by stakeholders as product or business model changes, innovating though process changes is the lowest-risk path to making a difference.

The process is the blend of technical infrastructure, technologies, skills and procedures. They are used in unison to solve a problem. It is the functional superiority of the new process over its previous version in solving the problem that points to the emergence of innovation. An innovative process has thus a component of novelty successfully applied for the clearly detectable benefit of its stakeholders.
In the context of the healthcare industry, stakeholders will notably include patients, healthcare professionals as well as payers and regulatory agencies.

European Commission defines process innovation as:
"process innovation means the implementation of a new or significantly improved production or delivery method (including significant changes in techniques, equipment and/or software).”

Objectives of process innovation include reduction of employed resources, such as operations time, costs and other resources, as well as eliminating waste.

Process Innovations are Low-Risk

The process innovations are believed to be less risky than other innovation types which makes them theoretically easier to accept by inherently risk-averse healthcare industry operating in line with the Hippocratic Oath stipulating “first do not harm”.

The adoption of the new solution requires from stakeholders to see and appreciate a relative advantage. The chances for an innovation to be accepted increase if the stakeholders have the capacity to adopt the new solution and it is in line with their interests. It also helps if the innovation is not too difficult to put into practice and can be tested on a small scale prior to the implementation. Finally, minimizing the risks boosts the innovation chances to be embraced.

Regina Herzlinger in her article for Harvard Business Review lists six factors responsible for facilitating or hindering innovation implementation in healthcare. These are players, funding, policy, technology, customers, and accountability.

Follow the Implementation Framework

These key factor list can really be shorthanded into 3 major categories: interests, enablers and accountability. Interests are represented by players, including payers (insurers and health systems), users (patients), and providers (healthcare institutions). Aligning their interests with patient focus in mind is key to implement innovative process solutions.

Accountability refers to the capability of tying actions with results to prove in an evidence-based process the superior advantage of the allegedly innovative process. Innovation enables include technology (an innovation carrier), and policy, that is policy-makers and industry regulators efforts to make sure industry players act, among others, in the best interest of patients.

Considering these 3 critical factor at the concept, development and implementation stages guarantees the process innovation will make a change in the healthcare system as well as positive impact on key stakeholders.

Stanisław Pisarski,
President, Strategic Advisor, Factor Consulting