What’s holding back progress in healthcare? Chief innovation officers weigh in

Noah Schwartz

Chief innovation officers told Becker’s that hospitals must become more comfortable with risk and willing to make cultural changes for healthcare innovation to flourish.

Despite recent leaps and bounds in adopting artificial intelligence and other digital tools, some healthcare leaders still identified a spirit of inactivity that holds back innovation.

“The barrier is ‘HIS’ or what I call ‘healthcare inertia syndrome.’ The symptoms are slow decision-making and lack of progress that defaults to the status quo,” David Shulkin, MD, the former secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, told Becker’s.

“The etiology of ‘HIS’ is multifactorial but includes lack of organizational focus, being overwhelmed by the complexity of the reimbursement system, having too many decision-makers, unwillingness to address institutional bureaucracy and fear of taking risks in new ways of doing business.”

Recently, some healthcare organizations looking to overcome “HIS” have turned in-house and sought innovative solutions from their clinicians. In May, New Hyde Park, N.Y.-Northwell Health awarded $1 million to two employee-driven innovation projects.

Charles Bruce, MD, chief innovation officer of Jacksonville-based Mayo Clinic in Florida, also pointed to sluggish bureaucracy as a barrier to healthcare innovation.

“The development of new innovations is outpacing the ability for expeditious regulatory approval,” said Dr. Bruce.

“Innovators require frictionless access to resources — healthcare providers, researchers, engineers, regulatory experts, business experts and sources of capital — hence the creation of the Mayo Clinic Innovation Exchange to serve as the world’s foremost healthcare innovation concierge.”

Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic has partnered with hospitals in Brazil, Canada, and Israel as part of an effort to spur innovation through global data-sharing.

Taking risks in an uncertain economy

Chief innovation officers also have to be mindful of how processes outside of their organization and control impact innovation. Geographic and macroeconomic considerations can play a massive role in a hospital’s ability to innovate.

“The venture folks on the coasts, in the last few years when things were going really well for them, were starting to look very seriously at the Midwest and how to expand, recognizing that good ideas can happen anywhere,” said Jon Darsee, chief innovation officer at Iowa City-based University of Iowa.

“That seems to have curtailed a little bit because now everybody’s a little more cautious. The deeper diligence is in the funding to support their existing portfolio companies, more so than in the past.”

Mr. Darsee predicted that more health systems in the Midwest could create their own venture capital arms to push for in-house innovation as coastal funding dries up. He pointed to nearby Des Moines, Iowa-based UnityPoint Health’s venture capital arm as an example.

In March, health system venture capitalist leaders told Becker’s that the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank will hurt innovation as investors become more prudent.

“Healthcare innovation is siloed and risk averse. Healthcare innovation requires multidisciplinary teamwork and an appetite to break down silos,” said Dr. Bruce.