Creating Clinical Innovation Systems


Clinical Innovation Systems

For clinical innovation to flourish within a healthcare organisation, a number of factors must co-ordinate together systematically in order for innovation to take hold. That's why it's useful to think of them as clinical innovation systems. Here are the six factors which can contribute to the establsihment of successful systems :

Leadership – a clinical innovation system must have both strong clinical leadership and advocacy and clear and unambiguous corporate engagement.

An External Focus – a clinical innovation system is unlikely to flourish without building a strong external focus. This can take many forms, but at it's simplest is the opportunity for third parties (academics, industrial and commercial organisations, local government etc.) to meet and exchange ideas with clinical staff.

A Clear And Obvious Doorway – a clinical innovation system should have an address, whether virtual or physical or ideally both. This allows potential innovators to bring their ideas forward and have them heard. Importantly this doorway opens in two directions. Internally, to the many engaged and ingenious staff working in the the healthcare organisation. Externally to the many potential solution providers who exist.

A Defined Path For Idea Assessment – nothing will do more to diminish a clinical innovation system than time spent on projects with no hope of success. Equally, nothing will kill enthusiasm for idea development more readily than a less than clear path for idea assessment. The Cardiff Clinical Innovation System has pioneered the use of a multi disciplinary approach to idea assessment. This has the twin virtues of replicating a recognised clinical process and of delivering a rapid assessment of potential ideas using a panel of experts.

Expert Protection – ideas have currency. In order to protect the value of an idea, clinical innovation must provide a level of expert protection which is appropriate to the value of the idea. There is no sense in protecting a service innovation – this should be spread as widely as possible so the greatest number can benefit. It does make sense to protect something which has a commercial value. Healthcare organisations in the UK have been notoriously inept at protection big ideas. A clinical innovation system will protect these interests.

A Well Designed Communication Mechanism – for a clinical innovation system to take hold, people must learn about it and it's successes.

Innovation and Improvement

Continuous improvement is one of the most important activities any healthcare organisations can commit to. Pioneered by Don Berwick and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement under the guise of improving patient safety. It's arguably one of the most important thematic developments in healthcare management in the last thirty years. There are hazards to be avoided when implementing a continuous improvement programme as this post makes clear. Nevertheless, every healthcare organisation should be working to improve patient safety.

What happens when there is no more improvement to be made?

That's when organisations must become skilful at developing innovation mindsets among it's staff.

Innovation may include invention – the discovery of new devices, compounds or technologies. But it is not merely inventions. Some of the most important healthcare innovations are new service designs – taking unnecessary steps out of the patient's journey.

This is why when building an innovation system within your organisation it's important to link this to the work of your continuous improvement team. These are people who by virtue of their training and experience will quickly understand the role which innovation plays and how they can contribute to the development of a innovation system. 

Success Criteria

Not every idea will be a world beater. However every idea begins with engagement with the problem at hand. Engagement is a priceless commodity which healthcare leaders everywhere work hard to develop. Increased levels of employee engagement is a critical indicator for successful innovation systems.  

Growing influence. Healthcare organisations are often remarkably insular. Widening the range of contributions to the challenges of healthcare delivery will not only increase the chances of finding breakthrough ideas, it will also grow the influence of the organisation with it's stakeholders. Reputation can serve as an attractor for talent and can build a positive climate within the organisation.

Idea Fulfilment. The translation of ideas into the hard currency of real deployments. This doesn't necessarily mean commercialisation – it's just as important to create new ways of working and alternative service models.

Minimal Bureaucracy. Innovators don't long to sit on committees or while away their days filling in acres of paper. A characteristic of a clinical innovation system is that it is easy to bring an idea forward. This is particularly important at the early stage. It's better to have a broad idea funnel with plenty of rejects, than a narrow one.

Everyone can play – perhaps the most important criteria of all. No-one has a monopoly on good ideas. Clinical innovations will work hard to confirm that everyone is entitled to a good idea and that any idea should be heard. Clinical innovation systems will positively counter the following misunderstandings about innovation:

'I'm not a boffin' – although adding to the sum of human knowledge is important, it is not a necessary pre-condition that an individual innovator must have an academic background to have the best ideas.

'It's not the cure for cancer' – it would be great to have that cure, and one day maybe that will happen. There is huge value in innovations which make something unpleasant less so, or finding a way of smoothing a patient experience, or making a hard task easier to accomplish. All of these 'every day' innovations and more are the meat and drink of clinical innovation systems.

'It's only for clinicians' - everyone who works in healthcare is either a clinician or is someone who in whatever direct or indirect way supports the clinical work. This means the doorway to innovation is open to all.

'It's only my idea' – each of us has a unique perspective on the world we work in. From our vantage point we can each see things that may not be visible to the next person. A clinical innovation system understands this and will encourage everyone to say out loud what they've been thinking.

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