A big question at HIMSS Australia Digital Health Summit: Why innovate?

Representatives from two healthcare providers and a technology partner discussed the meaning, processes and obstacles to innovation in healthcare at the HIMSS Australia Digital Health Summit.
By Dean Koh
09:34 PM

As healthcare organizations face unprecedented challenges to improve quality, reduce harm, increase efficiency, eliminate waste, and lower costs, innovation is becoming a major focus. A panel consisting of healthcare providers from Australian and international perspectives, together with a technology partner gathered at the HIMSS Australia Digital Health Summit on 21 November to talk about the realities and challenges to healthcare innovation. 

What does innovation mean in the context of healthcare?

“Innovation is more of a verb than a noun, healthcare organizations and providers need to step up and start embracing the phenomenon that everybody is an innovator. They need to be encouraged to solve old problems differently, but also anticipating problems in the future and create solutions for them. Using novel ways to address these problems, whether it's through technology, whether it's through process redesign or better governance,” said Dr Manish Kohli, Managing Director of Beyond Horizon Health, Co-Founder and Partner, Infinite Care Holdings.  

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Chief Executive and Chief Information Officer of eHealth NSW, Dr Zoran Bolevich said that innovation is the process of finding new ways of achieving outcomes that matter. He explained that it is not just about new drugs, therapeutics or new diagnostic devices or digital technology. Innovation could be in the form of clinical processes, engagement with consumers, organizational approaches, funding structures and incentives. All of these ‘non-tech’ components are also important levers that deliver good health outcomes.

“From my perspective, innovations that are scalable, are most valuable,” he added.

Similar to Dr Bolevich’s perspective on innovation, Justin Gernot, Vice President of Healthbox, said that his favorite definition of innovation is invention adopted and the challenge in healthcare is adoption. “At Healthbox, we see innovation as very broad – it could be process redesign, thinking of changing hiring practices, educating nurses and clinicians and changing of business models.”

Going about innovation – the process

Dr Kohli explained, “From a healthcare provider’s perspective, you're looking to define the problem as explicitly as possible, and really working backwards to align people process and technology to solve that issue. A health system or provider really needs to define what is it that they want to achieve, and then start building partnerships and empowering their own staff to really think creative. And then that’s where the culture comes in where you are really saying, we are going to tolerate some level of risk but we are going to be committed to the outcomes.”

He gave the example of his experience of building a hospital in the Middle East that has to deliver the same outcomes as in Ohio, USA. For him, innovation was really saying, “Okay, let's blow up everything and say how do we piece things together to deliver that?” What he did was that they were able to take the knowledge from Ohio and embed it into the technologies, design workflows and train the new staff who have never worked together to deliver care in a standardized manner and measure it.

From Dr Bolevich’s perspective of leading a system-wide/state-wide effort in innovation, the challenges lie in how to identify and take those innovations that are more suitable for broader adoption.

“We just finished implementing electronic medication management across NSW which was a very complex piece of work but it’s currently live in 178 hospitals. When we started this phase of the program about four years ago, there were only four hospitals with electronic medication management and now there’s 178 in less than four years. The reason for that was with every implementation that followed, we learnt that each of the organizations tweaked it, found something new and innovative. We were then able to use those learnings and just go faster and faster,” he said.

Tapan Mehta, Global Head, Healthcare Solution Marketing, Nutanix shared his perspective from a technology provider: “What Nutanix has done in its very foundation as innovation is disrupting the traditional way of designing infrastructure and moving to much more simplified, removing complexity, whether it's running different EHR workloads from Epic or Meditech or running different PACS systems to running very heavy workloads such as SAP in a healthcare system.”

“And that's really been our mantra where we've been able to take the architecture blueprint, apply it to the specific clinical IT workloads. This enables our customers to drive optimization both in terms of performance and cost reduction, as well as improving the overall processes.”

The biggest obstacles to healthcare innovation

According to Dr Kohli, one of the biggest obstacles to healthcare innovation for providers is the funding mechanisms and financing. “Very often, priorities are set by, by what you'll get reimbursed for. If funding models evolve, so that innovation can get financing and reimbursement, I think we can move the industry much faster. What we get paid for, and what the regulations allow us to do have a big, big role in either promoting innovation or stifling innovation,” he said.

“An often seen barrier is either a myopic view on behalf of the technology organization or the organization that the provider partners with. While we know in long term and that this could bear fruit or be successful, at the same time we’re under the constant pressure of showing results in the short term,” Mehta responded.