Sunday, April 28, 2013

Innovation at Boston Children's

At this week's Strictly Mobile conference, I had the pleasure of hosting a fire-side chat with Naomi Fried, the Chief Innovation Officer of Boston Children's Hospital. If you don't know Naomi's story, you should, as it's one of innovation, empowerment, and technology - all inside a hospital. Or loosely put, "every stereotype you've had about hospitals, debunked".

Photo via Twitter
Naomi's program focuses on "innovating innovation" in the hospital, especially the development of mobile applications and services. This is done through competitions and a formal program to surface great ideas that already exist inside the staff, but have little chance of seeing the light of day without Naomi's innovation program.

While there are a wealth of interesting possible things to highlight, three things really stood out to me:

1. Shifting the currency  - Incubators, VCs, Angels, even banks, are really good and giving you money. It's never been easier to get money, but it's never been harder to execute. Building a team, finding the right skills, getting into a hospital system - and more specifically, their EMR and IT Systems - will suck up all that money and more. So what Naomi's organization did was look at where the real challenges are - finding mobile developers, project managers, IT integration, and said "rather than giving out a grant, let's give people access to human capital!". As the currency shifted from hard-dollars to soft-skills, the idea that Naomi can put a team, including developers, along side the idea originator and ramp up the execution machine puts the focus on getting products into patients hands, where it should be.

2. Self-Disruption - Probably my favorite part of the story, this is an organization that starts by disrupting from within. From the head of radiology to the head of parking (true story), everyone in encouraged to submit ideas, and, if they are selected, bring the products to actual users inside the hospital.  Consider the impact on employee morale and satisfaction when you know that rather than bringing in a number of "outsiders", the team at Boston Children's is encouraged to lead the development of solutions to problems they see and face everyday. And yes, the head of parking's idea was selected and tested.

3. Patient First - Over and over you heard Naomi speak not of the IT department, or fiance committee or even, really, other doctors. The constituent you heard her mention the most was the child receiving care and their family. So not only is the program great for internal morale, but it also serves to extend the values of the hospital right into the innovation program - something rarely, if ever, experienced. Recounting situations where the mobile apps were helping to understand discharge conditions, or providing pictures of the care team to the family, there was a clear message of transparency and empowerment for the patient, above all others.

Call it "3a" or "Bonus", but I also want to highlight a great Q&A interaction with the audience. One audience member asked "this sounds very expensive, how can you afford this?" - to which Naomi explained that the only expensive option was continuing to operate in their current manner. It reminded me of that great quote on design - "If you think good Design is expensive, wait until you see what Bad design costs you." The point being, the hospital systems are starting to think about total costs of care not only in the hard dollars, but in the time, effort, efficiency, and satisfaction of it's customers. Listening to her discuss Return on Investment by looking at the entire ecosystem would make even the most jaded health-tech entrepreneur warm with opportunity.

There are easily a dozen more points that Naomi made that could be their own blog posts as well, but these were my personal highlights. I certainly encourage you to check out some of her interviews on YouTube from Converge and World Health Care Congress. If you're not following Naomi and what she's attempting to do at Boston Children's, you're missing out on some real trend-setting things happening inside the hospital.

Here's a bit more of Naomi in her own words: