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Any hospital can unleash healthcare innovation

Small hospitals and physician practices may not feel like innovators, but healthcare innovation can happen anywhere.

Healthcare innovation doesn't have to come from technology companies or policy bodies in Washington. Providers can take relatively small steps to foster innovation in their organization, therefore solving some of their most pressing challenges.

The industry is currently facing a number of issues that mainly stem from the high cost of care and poor outcomes. In a keynote presentation at the Institute for Health Technology Transformation's (iHT2) Health IT Summit in Boston, Alan Russell, PhD, Highmark distinguished career professor at Carnegie Mellon University, said most other industries have solved problems like this with disruptive new technologies. However, healthcare has been slower to embrace new ways of doing things. As a result, the industry continues to struggle under the weight of inefficiency.

"We pay twice as much per patient than any other country, and we rank 39 in the world by most measures" of quality, Russell said.

When you do these things, and pay attention to change management, you can have a minimal impact on productivity.
Larry Garber, M.D.medical director of informatics, Reliant Medical Group

The problem stems from the fact that most new technologies are designed to drive market share for vendors, rather than to improve quality, Russell said. Additionally, it takes several years for practicing clinicians to incorporate new research findings into the delivery of care. This locks people into the old ways of doing things. Until healthcare organizations embrace technology to enhance things like comparative effectiveness research and patient engagement, very little will change, Russell said.

The healthcare industry is currently in the middle of a trend toward technology adoption. The meaningful use program has driven rates of EHR use up sharply. This may be a good time for organizations to reflect on whether they are embracing healthcare innovation for the improvement of care.

Naomi Fried, chief innovation officer at Boston Children's Hospital, said organizations don't have to devote large budgets to developing novel technologies. Simply supporting new ideas can unleash creative approaches to problem solving.

For example, Boston Children's Hospital has a program called FastTrack Innovation in Technology, or FIT. As part of the program, clinicians can bring ideas for new mobile applications to software developers employed by the hospital who then help take the idea from concept to completion. A number of applications currently used in the hospital came out of the program.

This approach can take the creative burden for finding innovative solutions out of the IT department and put it into the hands of the staff. Most hospital IT departments don't have the bandwidth to develop mobile applications on their own because they are focused on meaningful use and the transition to ICD-10. Because most of the conceptual work is done by clinicians as they work and software development teams are small, even community hospitals could follow this approach, Fried said.

Convincing management to fund this kind of program can be a challenge. "People are sometimes afraid you're going to fail, but risk and failure are part of the innovation process," Fried said.

But, she added, the cost of unsuccessful projects is often made up for by the efficiency gains that come from successful ones.

Healthcare innovation doesn't have to involve the development of new applications. Larry Garber, M.D., medical director of informatics at Reliant Medical Group, said configuring an EHR system to meet a practice's needs may be one of the most important things providers can do.

For example, customizing the alerts that come up during entry ordering can cut down on clinician alert fatigue. Integrating patient claim data into medical records can make data in the records more actionable by showing doctors what tests have been performed elsewhere or whether patients have filled prescriptions.

These changes to the way EHR systems function are relatively small, but they can lead to major improvements in the quality and efficiency of a practice, Garber said during a presentation at the iHT2 conference.

"When you do these things, and pay attention to change management, you can have a minimal impact on productivity," Garber said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Ed Burns, news writer, or contact @EdBurnsTT on Twitter.

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