Barbara Adams, Vice President, Innovative Technology Solutions, Texas Health Physicians Group & Texa
As the environment changes, so too must the organization. As the organization changes, so too must thinking models. Things that don’t change remain the same. Change requires risk-taking. Are you ready to change?
On my first day attending the University of North Carolina MBA graduate program, my strategy professor walked in the classroom, slammed down his books and dramatically recited this mantra ending with the question: Are you ready to change?
In health care, we must ask ourselves this question regularly. The industry is changing in unprecedented ways. Many analysts predict health care is ripe for disruptive innovation. Business as usual is unsustainable. We must innovate to survive.
Innovative thinking is critical to Texas Health Resources enhancing patient care. In the clinical sphere, innovative ideas can lead to improvements in treatments and outcomes, prevention and patient education. It’s the right thing to do for patients and it better enables Texas Health to become a consumer-driven, high-reliability health system.
Innovation means different things to different people. At Texas Health, something is innovative if it improves health or helps us deliver compassionate or convenient patient care. I will share an example of how our innovation journey led us to launch an online appointment scheduling pilot with physician practices. Producing positive results, the pilot gained momentum. Now we are rolling out this technology to our employed primary care providers in Texas Health Physicians Group, Texas Health Resources’ not-for-profit physician organization, comprising more than 800 physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners and medical professionals representing 57 medical specialties in more than 250 North Texas locations. Offering patients and consumers the option to book online directly into office schedules brings the focus to what’s best for the patient.
Looking outside of health care, innovation has been defined many ways. Innovative companies believe that all employees should be creative, looking for better ways to do things in their jobs. It’s our task to learn from industries outside of our own, where innovation seems part of the DNA.
I’d argue our industry lags behind others in technological innovations from the consumer perspective. Health care consumers are evolving and have different expectations than five years ago. They have more choices than ever for care options, and increasing technological capabilities empower consumers to make better, smarter decisions. Information and data are critical to increasing patient engagement as we move into offering anytime, anywhere health care. We have to be easier to do business with in the health care market as the new definition of quality is convenience. Consumers are better informed and expect their care to be as convenient as online banking. While health care is experiencing a technological revolution, it’s nowhere near other industries’ adoption of innovation.
No matter the industry, barriers to innovation will exist. Innovative ideas will always be challenged because, at their essence, they’re new and unfamiliar. There’s confusion about who “owns” innovation and how innovative ideas bubble up to the surface. How do you decide which innovative projects to invest in? Do they fit into the organization’s priorities? After a project is approved, what are the timelines and who will be involved?
“Agile thinkers are best equipped to guide changes into opportunities to refocus the organization’s overall short- and long-term goals”
At Texas Health, we encountered many questions about our online appointment scheduling pilot, which included risks, of course. After securing a commitment from executive leadership, we needed buy-in, more importantly, from our providers. Instead of viewing this as a potential improvement, it’s possible instead they see us taking away one of their last bits of autonomy—their schedules. Now, consumers can easily see providers’ availability and book appointments at their convenience instead of the practice staff telling them what’s available. In the beginning, much resistance was a real possibility. But, remember: health care is ripe for disruptive innovations.
In the study, “Meeting the Challenge of Disruptive Change,” Clayton Christensen describes disruptive innovation as creating a new market by introducing a new kind of product or service that typically yields lower profit margins and is perceived as worse by a firm’s mainstream customers. This isn’t documented anywhere, but I observe a common trait in many disruptive innovators: they utilize technology platforms to run their operations. Consider these examples: Uber, Netflix, Airbnb and Rent the Runway which considers itself a technology-first company, having invested in its website and logistics before fashion. These companies illustrate how IoT is transforming other industries. So we studied what they learned and developed our key takeaways.
Our pilot started small, launching in the fourth quarter of 2014, with 10 THPG physicians who met the following pilot criteria: their practices must have a sufficient patient base, be accepting new patients and able to accommodate same-day appointments. There were three primary market dynamics in play behind the idea of offering online appointment scheduling functionality: empowered and tech-enabled consumers are more knowledgeable and have higher expectation of care provided; systems must “do more with less” to accommodate increasing demand despite downward cost pressures—relying on technology for productivity increases; and studies showed that patients are willing to switch to providers for more convenient access to care.
The pilot’s results reaffirmed our belief that today’s consumers are increasingly accessing health care information and services online and through their mobile devices. With promising pilot results, we received leadership approval and are moving forward with a group-wide rollout.
Change is all around us and it happens quickly. We can’t view it as an obstacle. Agile thinkers are best equipped to guide changes into opportunities to refocus the organization’s overall short- and long-term goals. Piloting an organization through a sea of change requires leadership and a commitment to embrace innovative solutions.