Using the power of “social” to steer healthcare innovation

A lot of hope is riding on innovation as the silver bullet that will solve many of society’s wicked problems – from unsustainable healthcare to transit to food safety. However, implementing new solutions in a world governed by procurement rules is very difficult. Even harder (and more expensive) is the scaling up of successful innovations across the system.

Healthcare veterans sometimes call Canada the land of pilots because we test so many innovations here. While pilots demonstrate value, we’ll never reap the full benefits if these amazing cost-saving/outcome-improving technology “thingies” are not implemented throughout the system!

The traditional model for the vendor-customer relationship is linear and transactional: it is built around a funnel that progresses from awareness to consideration, and then purchase to renewal. The funnel is easy to document, track and measure – but it doesn’t work for implementing NEW solutions, especially if they come from NEW vendors.

Conventional planning and procurement operate on the premise that managers can extrapolate future results from well-understood and predictable past experiences. One expects predictions to be accurate because they are based on solid knowledge rather than on assumptions. By definition, new projects are undertaken with a high ratio of assumption to knowledge.

The healthcare industry is a natural for social platforms

According to Nilofer Merchant, we want innovation, but without experiencing failure. We doctor with xraywant to embrace the new, but without risk. We want to act fast and fluid, but maintain tight controls. We want to empower everyone, but retain decision rights for ourselves. We want to experiment, but we also want predictability. We want to be flexible to customer input, but remain ruthlessly efficient. We want to adapt, but we fear the death of familiarity.

Nilofer also writes about the transformative power of social platforms for enterprises. Great companies were built on Michael Porter’s value chain framework, a wonderful model for efficient delivery of a known thing to a generic customer. But “the value chain” changes when the customer is no longer just the “buyer” but also a co-creator, an active participant in the business ecosystem.

Social platforms can be extremely liberating, especially in a healthcare context burdened with silos: organizations can be in a constant conversation with the customers to learn what is working and what is not, and adapt on the fly. If the organizational culture is right, these agile organizations only need to be consistent about trying, listening to and learning about what works for growth.

Commercial enterprises increasingly recognize that many of their customers have already moved to a world that is social, mobile and open, and now enterprise must improve the communication and collaboration experience to attract young talent and boost productivity and innovation.

These same customers are the users of our healthcare systems, and they bring the same expectations to the doctor’s office.

How can we let go of the old and move to the new form of social?

The two-way conversation between vendors and customers in the healthcare system can’t come from our traditional ERP, HR or CRM systems alone. Instead, it will come by maintaining a collaborative fabric (social software) that connects people in the various silos together, enabling everyone to discuss the tough questions with respect.

The MaRS Health IT Innovation Forum will do just that. An initiative in partnership with some of Ontario’s leading healthcare organizations, it will focus on immediate and sustainable action, leveraging MaRS’ innovation acceleration process.