Five Tactics For Healthcare Organizations To Innovate Like A Startup

Rick Newell, MD MPH is CEO of Inflect Health, Chief Transformation Officer at Vituity, and passionate about driving change in healthcare.

Male hand holding illuminated light bulb of new ideas with innovative technology and creativity


In my previous Forbes article, I listed five ways large, mature healthcare organizations must change to create a culture of innovation that keeps startups—and other nimble competitors—from rendering them obsolete. With this top-level commitment to letting innovators take chances and fail as steps on their path to success, here are five specific tactics to spur new ideas within healthcare.

1. Think like a designer or challenger would, rather than a market leader.

Rather than focusing on the product or service you deliver today, focus on the consumer and their needs of tomorrow. What type of complaints do you receive from patients and/or families? Often, organizations are quick to defend themselves from complaints and let themselves believe all the reasons why the service couldn’t be delivered differently.

Instead, you should use those complaints as opportunities to redesign the system and challenge the status quo. If you were a startup whose goal was to steal your customer away from you, what would you try? If you didn’t have your existing customer base to leverage or keep, what would that free you to do? If someone were to disrupt your most profitable business line, how could/would they do it?

2. Embrace how technology is changing healthcare.

New technologies—including big data, predictive analytics, telehealth, remote monitoring devices, health IT apps and others we don’t yet foresee—will forever change the way care is delivered, the way healthcare providers reach patients, the way populations are managed and the way patients expect to receive care.

Instead of trying to ignore them or defend against them, take them on as your own to see what you can do with them. With your existing customer base and corporate resources, you might be enabled to take new tech to places where small or underfunded competition can’t.

3. Identify adjacencies.

Look for categories of healthcare outside your existing businesses in which your organization would have an advantage over newcomers or other established but mediocre players. For example, my company used this tactic in a physician-owned and -led partnership with a multispecialty medical group that provides in-person urgent, acute and post-acute services. We had the assets and healthcare domain experience to expand adjacently beyond in-person care to remote telehealth services. Rather than waiting for others to disrupt us, we proactively innovated in this space before the pandemic, and now a significant portion of the patients we care for are seen virtually.

4. Look outside to other industries for innovations.

Frequently, industries have innovated in manners that are applicable to healthcare. For example, claims processing is an area where healthcare could draw from the disruption that has occurred in other industries. These transactions consume significant time, effort and money on both the health insurance side and the care delivery side (physicians, hospitals and clinics). Healthcare could also learn from the banking industry, where similar time-consuming and costly transactions are now completed in milliseconds for a fraction of a penny. By keeping abreast of changes in other industries that could be adapted, you could leap past healthcare companies stuck in old ways.

5. Connect and develop with outside companies.

Healthcare organizations can also consider partnering with cutting-edge healthcare technology companies and startup communities. Use these connections to gain access to their ideas, resources and people, as well as to create customizable products and platforms that help drive your strategic goals. Watch out for the “not invented here” bias that established, successful companies can develop. If you don’t pair up with the people whose tech remakes healthcare, someone else will.

As a leader in healthcare, it is your job to use these and other tactics to consistently drive innovation and transformation within your organization. Leaders must ensure they are the ones producing the disruption in their own organizations, rather than unexpectedly having someone else disrupt them.

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