The growth of data in healthcare is occurring at a faster pace than in any other industry. Over the next two years, the projected volume will nearly double, with 88% of it unstructured. The data are coming from electronic health records, test results, patient sensors such as wearables, bedside medical devices and implants.
Government agencies focused on healthcare know these facts all too well. There are promising methods emerging to help maximize the potential of all of this data: open innovation and cognitive computing. In addition to maximizing the potential of data, open innovation can help agencies address other challenges, including loss of productivity, lack of capital resources, rising costs and a perceived lack of financial return. They also can use open innovation to transform the way they deliver services and operate, realizing cost savings and operating efficiencies.
A recent report from the IBM Center for the Business of Government highlights how organizations can combine five elements of technology ecosystems to increase value for their innovation processes:
- Defining clear goals and expectations for open innovation and managing the flow of resources across agencies
- Seeking and encouraging diversity among participants
- Creating effective positioning within a network and being active team players
- Establishing and observing effective governance and leadership while encouraging openness and transparency
- Minimizing friction and bureaucracy while continuously monitoring external conditions
Now imagine if both of these approaches can be combined to take collaboration to the next level. Open innovation can help healthcare organizations learn from each other to benefit a broader innovation network, while cognitive systems can learn from training by experts, from every interaction, and from continually ingesting new sets of data. In fact, they never stop learning.
The IBM report highlights how agencies are employing open innovation across healthcare technology systems. Applying cognitive computing would further promote that innovation.
One example is the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department. The agency was tasked with building a new approach around its open source-based VistA EHR software. The VA found that while there was expertise and information contained within the software, communication using the system was fragmented and disconnected. Additionally, many of the modules within the software had been customized by a particular agency or vendor, making them difficult to use.
The VA's main challenge was how to use the fragmented code developed internally to be deployed elsewhere. So the VA converted VistA into an open-source software model. After this conversion, the agency could easily share its developers' expertise while providing a degree of credibility for the software, especially in the eyes of external hospitals that were considering investing in VistA.
The VA also used open innovation methods during VistA's implementation. It recruited and retained a diverse pool of members from multiple organizations to ensure a breadth of perspectives. It established working groups to engage members, allowing them to focus efforts on specific areas where they were able to obtain the most significant return on their involvement.
The VA enabled a complex web of relationships among the various participants. All of these steps resulted in an improved flow of innovation practices with external agencies and private firms. A lesson from this approach is that the VA couldn't drive innovation alone. Converting the program into an open-source software model that leverages a technology ecosystem is what led to open innovation. Driving cognitive approaches will require the same type of collaboration.
The next logical step would be to apply cognitive computing to the EHR infrastructure to enable the data collected and shared among stakeholders to help uncover patterns, opportunities and actionable hypotheses that would be nearly impossible to discover using traditional research or programmable systems alone. That could help improve the patient experience and how partners work together to anticipate and address emerging healthcare challenges.
The progress in this area is impressive. Organizations can build on the good work that has already been done by embracing open innovation practices, tapping the power of cognitive computing to solve complex challenges vexing our nation's healthcare providers.
Nicole Gardner is vice president and U.S. federal healthcare industry leader for IBM Global Business Services.