Healthcare innovation has become a more important part of people’s lives, with society changing its relationship with health and wellness, and consumers becoming more empowered to manage their own health.
The concept of innovation in healthcare companies is therefore being transformed from what it was 10 or 20 years ago. Previously, innovation was handled almost exclusively by R&D teams and product development was a rigorous, but slow process. Now, with the digitization of healthcare, advances in big data and artificial intelligence, and the exciting work being done by start-ups and entrepreneurs, how we innovate is changing, especially in medtech.
Despite these changes, what innovation is has not changed and the key principles still hold true. Firstly, the core of innovation is recognizing a problem. Any innovation that needs developing, needs to be solving an identifiable problem. Secondly, innovation itself is based on the desire to find a solution for a problem that cannot be solved using something that already exists. It requires you to think differently and address that problem in a new way, either by using a novel solution, a new type of technology or a different approach.
It is also important that it creates value. Innovation is not just having an idea, but executing on something so that it produces value for someone. In healthcare, there can be great ideas, but to really be innovative, that idea needs to be able to be implemented and generate value for the person who will use it or the healthcare system.
One of the biggest changes I have seen in medtech companies is where innovation takes place in the organization. Innovation is no longer limited to the R&D teams, and it can happen in all parts of a company. For example, the close relationship of commercial teams to their customers can enable them to see a problem differently and find the right solution, and regulatory teams are responding to changing regulatory requirements in digital health that can help uncover new ways to innovate. In my role, I try to remember that innovation comes from many parts of our business and we welcome contributions from all teams, even those who work in more functional areas.
That is not to say that traditional R&D programs in healthcare are not important, as they remain essential for the development of new products and solutions to address patient needs.
However, the explosion of growth in areas like digital health innovation has meant that traditional R&D can sometimes struggle to keep pace. Companies are increasingly turning to partnerships with startups to generate cutting edge ideas to supplement these programs, as well as running competitions, both internal and external, crowdsourcing events and hackathons to source innovation.
As well as generating ideas, these activities can unite employees and build a culture of innovation. By showing current employees and the outside world that you are a company that has innovation at its core, you can help to attract and retain top quality talent and interest exciting new partners.
One key to making innovation possible is to provide an environment where it can flourish. There is often a natural immunity to change and new thinking, and there are barriers that inhibit innovation that need to be broken down—including apathy, an unsupportive environment, being overworked, lack of knowing what innovation looks like, and fear of failure. Organizations need to find ways to address these issues, celebrate successes and provide the right environment.
This means encouraging employees to take risks, feel the ability to fail and have the opportunity to learn from it. This can often go against the results-based culture of many corporate environments, but space for failure and continuous improvement is a key part of innovation.
Innovation requires people to be passionate, take ownership and be responsible for driving ideas further. We need to encourage people to be open minded, resilient and focused on the needs of the stakeholder they are trying to help—this way, we can truly innovate healthcare.