Thursday, June 2, 2016

What is Health Technology Innovation?

Note: This is the first in a special series of posts jointly written by both Katie Donohue McMillan and me. Katie recently joined Duke as our Innovation Portfolio Manger and brings with her a wealth of experience and a unique perspective from outside the stodgy halls of academia.

A new app? A new device? An old device used in a new way? And old interface put to a new use? None of the above?

We bet many of you share our frustration with the term innovation. Overused, cliché, and now practically blasé, the word has clearly lost its way, the meaning diluted through inclusion in overzealous marketing phrases and conference taglines. If we had a dime for every time someone around here used the word innovation, we’d probably have enough funding to build several ResearchKit/ResearchStack apps that incorporated the HoloLens and Scanadu Scout. We’d get all our transplant patients a 3D-printed organ (or two). We’d be able to buy all of Duke Health patients their own Apple Watch.

Yet, with all the overuse and confusion around the term, it still means something to people that is not represented more clearly through use of another word. For us, it’s the belief that we can find new ways to improve health for all humankind. So we’re not advocating that you jettison “innovation from your vocabulary. At least not yet.

Merriam-Webster defines innovation as “a new idea, device, or method.” Yet in healthcare, we see “new” things all the time that subjectively don’t rise to the level of innovation. Does a new generic drug, another patient portal app, moving data to the cloud, or the implementation of an electronic health record really fit the bill?

Some would argue, though, that something doesn’t have to be groundbreaking to be innovative. Maybe integrating an existing clinical risk calculator into an EHR could be considered innovative - it could save time and improve care. Allowing patients to view their doctors’ notes is breaking down the centuries-old paradigm of paternalism in health care. Giving patients a way to electronically consent for a study with tools like Research Kit can increase study enrollment by orders of magnitude.

Perhaps we’re simply demanding too much of the poor word and the people who use it? Or we’re spoiled by the constant miracles technology has wrought to the extent that the miraculous has become mundane. That one entrepreneur’s great idea has simply become another executive’s IT expenditure.

We will be exploring the concept of innovation over the next year. What is innovation? What does innovation mean? How do you cultivate it within a healthcare system? How do you support innovations and entrepreneurs?

This question may be unanswerable, or there may be a thousand right answers. What do you think? What does innovation mean to you?

About Us: Ricky Bloomfield, MD, is the Director of Mobile Strategy and practicing pediatrician at Duke Health. In his spare time he likes to develop software and play with emerging technologies. Katie Donohue McMillan is the Innovation Portfolio Manager at Duke Health. Together, they’re attempting to accelerate the entrepreneurial spirit within Duke and amplify great solutions that improve healthcare.

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