The time for innovation in healthcare is now

Thought Leadership on Health Care Innovations presented by Georgetown University Department of Health Systems Administration.

Healthcare innovation holds the promise of better health, improved organizational performance and lower costs. Disruptive technologies, big data analytics, and wearable monitoring devices are driving new insights and care delivery models and creating significant turbulence, but they also provide a much needed change and engagement of all stakeholders in our health systems.

There are many voices calling for innovation in our healthcare system. The Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) calls for new designs that pursue the “triple aim” (improving the patient experience, improving the health of populations, and reducing the per-capita costs of care). The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) through the CMS Innovation Center has been awarding up to one billion dollars in healthcare innovation awards to organizations that test new payment and service delivery models that deliver better care and lower costs. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) has an innovations exchange that sponsors learning communities that help scale and spread innovations focused on high-priority areas, like patient-centered care for at-risk populations. Many private industries and employers like Pitney Bowes, Safeway and GlaxoSmithKline have led the way in innovative employer health programs and global health partnerships.

Traditionally, healthcare innovation referred to the development of new drugs, medical devices and therapies. One imagines the bench scientist celebrating their eureka moment when they discover the therapeutic potential of a new molecular entity. Our understanding of innovation expanded to include technological advancements such as new diagnostic or therapeutic equipment (e.g. electron-beam computed tomography, gamma knife stereotactic radiosurgery), new ways to connect with patients (e.g. telemedicine, mobile health), and new ways to understand and monitor health (e.g. portable bio-monitors, self-care diagnostics). Modern healthcare innovation, however, is much broader and reflects the complexity of our health system. It includes consumer behaviors, healthcare provider incentives, new payment and service delivery models, process improvements in care delivery, health information management and data analytics, as well as a host of other areas where creativity mixes with necessity. This creates new ways to reduce costs, increase value, improve outcomes, expand access to care, facilitate the translation of research into practice and policy, and transform the patient experience.

How to introduce innovation

In this final article in our series, we suggest that the time for organizations and their leaders to assess present, and perhaps outdated, assumptions for change and to focus energy on healthcare innovations in transforming care delivery is now.

According to a survey conducted by the Forum on Healthcare Innovation, an interdisciplinary platform established by Harvard Business School and Harvard Medical School, sentiments about the current quality of healthcare in the United States is 20% strongly negative compared to 14% strongly positive, while sentiments about the future cost and quality of healthcare in the United States is 22% strongly negative compared to 1% strongly positive. There is no simple solution that addresses the systemic challenges of our healthcare delivery system, but the best ideas will involve collaboration, integration and “connections among many promising approaches.” Organizational leaders must focus on reducing costs and improving health outcomes through shared information and care coordination; on process improvement strategies that allow experimentation and learning; on engagement by all employees and patients in managing their own health; on decentralizing autonomy and approaches to problem solving to facilitate collaborative efforts; and on all organizations and communities being open and willing to integrate new knowledge and best practices.

Analyzing data using appropriate and insight-generating tools will allow both providers and patients to make better decisions and allow greater shared accountability in care decisions. To do this, consumers will need better mechanisms for informing their choices.

Behavioral economics needs to be better understood and integrated into practice and care design models. It is critical that all organizations examine the opportunities for healthcare innovation, in its broadest sense, and the imperatives for well-informed and experienced organizational leadership.

The complexity of healthcare requires stronger and more agile leaders with diverse experiences, strategic insight and collaborative, multi-disciplinary approaches. To help build this leadership capacity, the Executive Master’s Program in Health System Administration (Executive MHSA) at Georgetown University ( provides mid-professional and junior executive employees the opportunity to learn from innovative healthcare leaders and practitioners, and to share the experience with emerging health system executives and business leaders. Through its blended online delivery model coupled with critical in-person engagement with experienced executive faculty, the Executive MHSA at Georgetown University nurtures the experiential insights and enhanced capabilities needed to bring new thinking to today’s challenges.

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