When most people think about innovation, and the many possibilities it offers to help healthcare advance, the word “deliberate” rarely comes up. And yet, one of the keys to success with accelerator or innovation strategies is “to be deliberate with what fits into the overall strategy,” said Rick Schooler, CIO at Lee Health.
During a presentation at the CHIME21 Fall Forum, Schooler addressed this timely topic, along with Tressa Springmann (Chief Information & Digital Officer, LifeBridge Health) and Anne Wellington (Executive Director, Digital Strategy at Cedars-Sinai). And although the three organizations have different approaches — and are at different stages — when it comes to accelerating innovation, they were on the same page in terms of best practices.
Below are some of the points they shared during the presentation.
- Alignment is critical. One of the key principles, according to Schooler, is to ensure any initiative aligns with the organization’s mission and is structured for long-term growth. “Make sure the innovation fits your culture,” he noted. The best way to do to that is by ensuring all stakeholders “understand the why.”
- Governance first. Before starting any program, “You need a thoughtful and well-considered governance structure, and you need to have some guiding principles to direct that structure,” said Springmann, whose organization has partnered with CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield to identity digital health startups by leveraging a Shark Tank-style platform. “Culture will influence everything that’s part of that governance, including risk tolerance.”
- Leadership buy-in. When working with startups, having support from executive leaders is important, but it needs to go beyond that, noted Schooler. “They have to be the ones to say, ‘I want to learn more about this company,’ and be willing to commit time. That’s a fundamental requirement for us to move forward with any startup.” Although accelerator teams play a key role in bringing companies into the fold, “if they don’t have an executive leader who wants to work with them, it’s not going to be meaningful.”
- Expect highs and lows. Not only do organizations need to have a high level of risk tolerance when engaging with startups; they also need to anticipate highs and lows, noted Schooler. “There are going to be good and bad moments, just like with any initiative.” Leaders need to “take ownership,” and “be clear and in consensus in terms of what you want.” Springmann agreed, noting that although it can be exciting and invigorating to work with startups, “you really have to dig deep to remind yourself about the potential risk involved.”
- No freebies. Another risky area is agreeing to do a free pilot, said Wellington, who strongly cautioned leaders to require payment upfront. “The issue we have is that it’s not a good indicator of whether stakeholders would want to use a solution long-term, when they actually have to invest money.” Wellington is also Managing Director of the Cedars-Sinai Accelerator, which aims to help entrepreneurs bring innovative products to market. “The learning curve in managing pilots has been our biggest dissatisfier.”
- Establish clear goals. Before starting a pilot, she advised establishing goals with metrics that clearly define how success is determined, and what are the next steps. “You need to think about what you’re trying to accomplish and how you plan to scale afterwards,” Wellington noted. “When we haven’t done that, we’ve run into situations where the pilot goes well, but then we hit a wall of, ‘what do we do now? How do we expand?’”
- Think out of the healthcare box. Don’t be afraid to go outside of healthcare, said Springmann, who discussed a unique partnership between LifeBridge Health and Live Chair Health to provide education, screening tools and resources for patrons of Baltimore-area barbershops who may have been exposed to Covid-19. The collaboration builds upon Live Chair’s success in working with barbers to screen patrons for high blood pressure and other risk factors for heart disease and stroke. The idea was to capitalize on the trust that barbers have built with customers to initiate conversations around health concerns. Pilot results showed that 42 percent of visitors completed the assessment, which can go a long way toward created a “defined health relationship,” Springmann said.
Finally, for CIOs — who, in many cases, don’t own innovation — the top priority is to enable us and develop partnerships around innovation, noted Schooler. “You’re not going to have all of the ideas, and you may not have any control over any of it.” The best course is to “be a willing, open and collaborative partner.”