When the hottest topic in healthcare is the downward spiral of provider burnout and staffing shortages, it’s time for healthcare organizations to adopt an improvement mindset with two complementary goals. The first is to find incremental innovations that can drive meaningful improvements in solving known problems. The second is to find innovation by engaging the abundant superpowers that your staff already possesses but that are being largely ignored.
Making incremental innovation your organization’s superpower
by Patrick Horine, Accreditation Commission for Health Care
Invention and innovation are related but distinct. If invention means a product or service that has not previously been in existence, innovation refers to a change made to an existing product, idea or process.
“Newness” is always a big story. An invention tends to get a lot of attention. Innovation, on the other hand, is often relegated to use as a descriptor: Company X is an innovative disruptor in the industry. But innovation is where an invention or a process gets improved. And improvement often comes as the result of an end-user identifying a tweak or customization that makes the thing more useful, more effective.
The origin story of the potato chip is debated (believe it or not) but the innovation of coated bags contributed as much if not more, to make them the ubiquitous snack we know today.
The idea came from someone selling chips. They brought critical thinking to the problem of storing a fragile, perishable commodity that was purchased in small quantities. They experimented with ironing waxed paper and identified a meaningful solution that improved shelf life, preserved freshness, and protected the fragile chips that had been previously stored in large barrels or glass display cases and served in paper bags.
Small, incremental innovation can have a significant impact.
As illustrated in the potato chip example, those closest to the problem are often the best source of ideas. Their knowledge and their personality create the particular genius they bring to the workplace: the specific, unique and specialized skill at which they excel. Everyone has this kind of superpower. The current challenge for healthcare organizations is recognizing and activating those skills so as to revive energy, create fulfillment and purpose, improve engagement and inspire loyalty.
Knowledge of patient needs and provider process is the superpower of the front line. But not every idea constitutes an “innovation.” Change for change’s sake rarely works. Neither will every potential innovation have an equal impact or even guaranteed success. Effective innovation solves a problem in a way that is understood and adoptable by users. This means finding the next set of superpowers: the ability to distinguish good ideas from the impractical and ineffective ones while maintaining compliance with best practices and regulatory requirements.
Compliance will be different in different settings. A large, teaching hospital may use cloud-based software to track corrective and preventive actions while a small, critical access hospital may accomplish this with a spreadsheet managed by its quality team, housed on a shared drive, and accessible to all relevant staff. Piloting and documenting change, measuring its impact, and analyzing the result are the heart of quality improvement and the way to identify actual innovation.
When it comes to accreditation, it just makes sense to assign ownership of the process. This may be a compliance officer, a risk manager, or a coordinator depending on the size and scope of the organization. This individual may serve as the project manager and a resource to others but the groundwork of implementing individual standards often belongs to those on the front lines of patient care. This is where incremental innovations create value.
Coordination among teams and across departments is the superpower of leaders. Building a super team for your organization is knowing your superpower, knowing others’ superpowers, and partnering to realize a shared mission. Encouraging individuals and teams to identify and use their superpowers leads to energy, fulfillment, purpose, engagement, and inspired action. It solves problems in the most meaningful way.
Patrick Horine, MHA, is vice president, acute care services at Accreditation Commission for Health Care, Inc. Before assuming this role with ACHC, he was the founding president and CEO of DNV Healthcare.
ACHC offers education-based accreditation focused on maximizing quality and safety in patient care and sustainability in business practices. Ten of ACHC’s 19 accreditation programs are recognized by CMS: acute care and critical access hospitals, ambulatory surgery centers, laboratories, DMEPOS, home health, home infusion therapy, hospice, renal dialysis, and sleep labs.