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Healthcare and Innovation

By Andrew Miller Created: February 27, 2013 Last Updated: February 27, 2013
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There is an ongoing discussion about how to increase and encourage innovation. This is especially prevalent in the often risk-averse Canadian healthcare space where hospital budgets are being squeezed and there is a great deal of public scrutiny on how the remaining money is being spent.

In order for innovation to prosper, these conditions must prevail:

An understanding of what innovation is

Innovation doesn’t have to be a brand new technology or process. It could be an enhancement of something that already exists. By looking at the definition in a different way, it makes the activity of encouraging innovation easier to accept. Think about how we can make improvements. Some will be brand new and game changing and others will be small improvements on what currently exists. Both are innovations and both can add value.

A system that motivates innovation

This requires governments and organizations to create incentives for innovators. These incentives could take the form of grants, funding, lower barriers to market access, tax credits or relief, or many other options. The key is that innovators are motivated to improve upon what is currently in the marketplace and that we have processes in place that allow for the ongoing evaluation and adoption of these innovations.

An appetite for risk by buyers and sellers

Organizations need to have an appetite for the risks required when innovating. Not every innovation is going to be a success, so organizations need to recognize this when developing, purchasing, or selling something innovative. Listen to customers and fulfill a current or future need to increase your chances of developing successful innovations. Buying organizations need to have greater risk tolerance in order to identify and purchase innovative products and services that bring greater value.

A roadmap for success

Whenever you try to go from one place to another, you need a map to show you how to get there. Innovation is no different. What are the processes that need to be in place in order for the innovation to be adopted? What additional value will the innovation bring? What stakeholders need to support the initiative? What are the steps required to effectively develop, commercialize, and implement this new innovation? Without a common roadmap, organizations will falter at any of the various stages.

An understanding and ability to take the first step

One of the biggest roadblocks to innovation is that organizations don’t know where to start. To talk about developing and/or commercializing innovation and getting it adopted is a daunting task; so we need to break it up into manageable chunks. Understanding the first step will go a long way to creating some forward momentum. Don’t think of the whole journey, just think of one thing your organization can do to start the journey, then let the laws of physics take over (something in motion tends to stay in motion).

My advice to Canadian healthcare providers (hospitals and other healthcare institutions) is that you need to get comfortable with identifying, evaluating, and adopting innovations. Be prepared to have different conversations with your suppliers and business partners and look for better processes to maximize value and return on investment.

For the healthcare suppliers, my advice is be prepared to have different conversations with your customers and potential customers. You need to show the value of your innovation and how it will improve performance for your customers and the healthcare system as a whole. You are no longer selling features and benefits. You are showing value and building relationships to develop solutions that best meet the needs of your customers.

If we can make those mindset changes in our healthcare system, we should be able to sustain or even improve the quality of health care for Canadians.


Andrew Miller is the president of ACM Consulting. First published by the Conference Board of Canada.

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