Innovation: A Crucible

Innovation: A Crucible

When innovators talk, it’s not always about mining ideas for the Next Big Thing.


Sometimes the most meaningful conversations are about innovation itself, for example, about sensing the need to innovate, about acknowledging the purpose of innovation, and about committing to its core and process. Such is the basis of the innovation mix.


Take this conversation at the Health Innovators Show of Dr. Roxie Mooney, DBA between Jeffrey Carlisle, CEO at Pneuma Systems Corporation; Brent Wright, Associate Dean for Rural Health Innovation at University of Louisville; and myself. All things said about innovation — the need for it, when to create or innovate, how to evaluate it — all pointed to the core of it, the end user. And particularly in health management, it begins and ends with the end user. The key, therefore, is being able to identify that “end user,” and it just may not be who you think it is. It’s certainly the patient; but it's also the clinician, social worker, provider, and payer, to name a few. All need to be engaged; and that’s where innovation starts, because engagement is the concentrated force that promotes change.


As Carlisle pointed out, “You start there and you end there because once you've created a solution to an unmet need, it’s the power of the consumer voice that will influence an organization. It’s not going to be the research and development team, it won’t be the manufacturing team. It'll be the sales guy who will find out from his customer what interests the customers as end user.” 


Being aware of those end users is ultimately the most important element; because unless the innovation satisfies the end users' needs both in the innovation's business proposition and through the innovation itself, it's just a paper exercise. Why? Because you can design and build it — but if it’s not going to be used, if it can't stand the heat of testing, then it fails.  


Remember, there is more beyond knowing who the end user is and what their unmet need is: It also takes value proposition — what pain point are you trying to solve by innovating, and at what cost? 


Innovation isn’t daydreaming. It's a discipline with a purpose, according to Tom Schoenwaelder, principal and chief commercial officer of Doblin, the design-center subsidiary of Deloitte Consulting LLP. He says that innovation is all about looking beyond product, that it has to create value. 


Most innovations are driven by technology and corporate-centric narratives. When end users are not at the table, that’s when innovation falls flat. Innovation involves a process where end users take the lead. This co-innovation process ups the adoption of the solutions. 


Carlisle suggests that this process involves user pilot-testing. “It’s got to be driven by respectfully, quietly listening, finding out what is an unmet need; then you start slow, do pilot programs, and keep expanding the pilot until you end up selling not what others are selling, and not what you are doing, but rather the results of what you’ve done.” 


But as Mooney argued, even while there is a real need by the end user, adoption is conditional, that is, all points in the workflow ecosystem have to be onboard; so until that happens, "it's nowhere." To this point, Wright believes that the power of the relationship between the technology and its end user is where the magic lies. 


“When you design innovation, it has to be with workflow in mind. It has to be with efficiency in mind and with keeping that end user. For me, that end user, the consumer? I see a relationship, and like the patient-doctor relationship, it’s vital,” Wright said. 


In healthcare relationships, such as between and among patients, doctors, and payers, there are incumbents, status quo proponents who may beg to disagree or, more to the point, put off any disruption. “Does the status quo need innovation?” Wright asked during the course of the conversation. While he opined that healthcare is so incumbent, he also believes that “right now we're really in an appropriate time to be healthcare innovators, to make great changes.” 


Take the case of patient communication and engagement and its accelerated adoption during the pandemic. Of all the horrible things that came with COVID-19, the one thing people started recognizing was the need to satisfy the patients — to acknowledge their needs and to enable them to access the system.   


So where does innovation lie? 


“I’ve always seen innovation as taking existing parts and putting them together, and that can be very important to innovation … Innovation is making things better appropriately,” Wright said.


The heat is on. The crucible is ours to fill — with our focus on all the end users and on the innovator–end user relationship, with the principles of engagement, with the end users' unmet needs and pain points, with rigorous testing, and with careful attention to the nature of innovation itself. In our work, this mix interacts to cause and influence change.


I see one more key element of innovation in having the determination to say that we’re actually on the path we need to be on right now. To me, the premise of the ultimate innovation that we do at LifeWIRE is that patients, providers, and payers are fully engaged while the technology is invisible. You don’t need to see the innovation — you just want things to happen and as simply and easily as possible. #BeLifeWIREd 


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