Innovation isn’t just about some cool application of artificial intelligence. It could be less glamorous, like making it easier to match expecting parents with the right pediatrician. For Scott Nordlund, chief strategy and growth officer for Banner Health, it comes down to making sure ideas—big or small—align with mission, vision and strategy. Nordlund in late May took the helm at the newly created Banner Innovation Group—BIG. The group, which he said will likely get $5 million to $10 million in capital funding annually, will support ideas and projects from Banner staff and outside firms. Nordlund spoke with Modern Healthcare Managing Editor Matthew Weinstock about BIG. The following is an edited transcript.
MH: Why did Banner decide to create the innovation group?
Nordlund: One of the things I like to do—and I did this when I was chief strategy officer at Trinity Health in Michigan and when I was senior vice president in venture development at Dignity Health—is really to look hard at the values of the organization, the mission of the organization, the strategy of the organization. The way that innovation gets done in organizations is very dependent on the DNA of that organization. If you’re an Apple or a Google, you’re all about innovation, right?
When you’re at a not-for-profit health system, your innovation needs to be more disciplined and it really needs to be tied more with what your organization is trying to accomplish, which is best expressed by your mission, vision, values and strategy. Banner’s mission is, “Making health care easier, so life can be better.”
Then when you look at our strategic plan, it carries that theme through with perfecting the customer experience, helping our customers be their healthiest, engaging and inspiring our people and then growing our reach and impact.
We had two groups in Banner, innovation and digital business, and then also our imaginariums, which I would describe as incubators. When I looked at them, they were mainly set up around consumerism and affordability.
I felt like we had the two right pieces … to bring together under BIG and really implement programs that I think will have lasting impact on our customers and our patients’ healthcare experience.
MH: Do you feel like you have the people in the organization to drive innovation or do you need to start to look at your people pipeline?
Nordlund: I feel like the base was there, they were just operating somewhat independently. And maybe not with the focus; maybe a little bit more of a clinical innovation focus than a business innovation focus. And so, bringing them together and making a few tweaks here, I think we’ve really now got ourselves set up to be really great innovators.
MH: You need both a clinical and business focus, right?
Nordlund: You do. The emergency department is a good example.
The ED experience is expensive. It’s not a desired experience; you’re at a very vulnerable point. But that’s frequently the front door for a lot of health systems across America. So we said, “If you need an ED, we want it to be as good an experience as you can possibly get.”
A portion of ED care can be dealt with in an urgent-care setting. So we want to make it easy for you to check in on urgent care. One thing we created ourselves was to allow patients to check in on their phone and get directions to one of our urgent-care centers; they can see updated wait times. Our 24-hour nurse line provides support and guidance to help determine if you need something more than urgent care.
We also have a chatbot in the ED. Once you get there and check in, we want a couple of things to happen. We want another opportunity for triage, so anybody who didn’t call in, we want to be able to have you go through a quick triage, make sure you do need ED-level services.
MH: You’re going to look at innovations from employees, but also working with outside companies, right?
Nordlund: I don’t think Banner has fully embraced opportunities from the outside. We have not done a great job of reaching out and saying, “Hey, we are an ideal testing site for things. We’d be interested in the right kind of pilots that tie to strategic things and pain points that we have in our business processes.”
We’d be interested in warrants or equity if it’s a early-stage company that we’re going to be potentially a market maker for. We’re starting to look at all those things and that takes a tremendous amount of discipline because you don’t want to chase a bunch of things that end up being science projects.
MH: Outside of the ED experience, what are some of the early ideas or early successes that BIG’s going to be focused on?
Nordlund: With our major service lines—orthopedics; oncology; women, infants and pediatrics; and cardiovascular—we’re going to look at what kinds of things can we do to make those experiences better for consumers and customers.
It’s not always a big technical or digital kind of thing like I described for the ED. Sometimes it’s more simple. In our women, infants and pediatrics line, we’re trying a sort of concierge service for new moms. And also what we call pediatric speed dating, where either moms who are new to the community or first-time moms can sit down and interview several pediatricians and get a feel for their best match.
MH: How are you going to define success for BIG?
Nordlund: We’ll use things like net promoter scores and if we see some uptick in terms of how people feel about the Banner experience, but I think about the big three: have we begun to lower costs for the customers we serve, have we improved quality, and have we made it a better customer experience?
In the ED example, we have the triage service that helps you figure out whether you need to be there. So if you avoid an emergency department setting and you’re able to go to urgent care, that’s a significant savings for you in terms of out-of-pocket expenses, but it’s also a significantly different experience in terms of convenience, etc.
MH: But not all of them will translate to a lower cost. Your speed dating for moms, for example.
Nordlund: Right. And that’s the example where I said I think about the big three. So, in that one, that’s a better customer experience.