The last twenty years or so have seen a wide variety of healthcare innovations, and more are introduced daily. The challenge facing us all is to correctly categorize the breakthroughs and respond productively. Consider three examples:
1. Very promising but immature
The obvious example of this type of innovation in healthcare is the EHR system. It is easy to see the benefits of searchable and sharable information, immediately available when and wherever it is needed. And who thinks multi-volume paper files for patients are the most effective kind of medical record? EHRs are an obvious game changer in terms of quality of care and efficiency — once the kinks have been worked out.
And therein lies the rub: Champions get excited about the potential benefits and look past the grunt work necessary to address and resolve all the details, including interoperability and usability hurdles. There is a reason early adopters are referred to as being on the bleeding edge. The guinea pigs in the trenches: physicians, staff, and patients suffer through all sorts of shortcomings and service failures.
The most effective response to any important, promising innovation is a combination of active monitoring of developments, healthy skepticism, risk aversion, and an open mind.
It takes a lot of mistakes and missteps to eventually produce a usable and reliable system; the more complicated the system, the more mistakes and missteps are inevitable. For users, it is most efficient to be a later adopter and take advantage of the painfully acquired experience of others.
2. A hammer in search of a nail
My favorite example of this type of innovation is the addition of a clock to absolutely everything; including pens, pencils, tablets, rulers, calculators, etc. Useless features are often added simply because an engineer (software or otherwise) knew he could, and thought it would be really cool.
Useless innovation can be innocuous. It is a problem when it is used to justify a higher cost, or it adds to operational complexity. In either of those cases, it is best to take a permanent pass.
3. Mundane but really useful
These innovations tend not to attract attention to themselves. They are usually incremental improvements to a common tool with which most folks are already generally satisfied. The return on investment for adopters is huge, because the modified tool is relatively inexpensive and it has a high frequency of use.
The wireless telephone headset is one of these. Your receptionist is not likely to beg for or demand a wireless telephone headset, unless she has seen one in use. The first advantage is to have her hands free, which is also available with a tethered headset. The breakthrough advantage with a wireless unit is that she can move freely. No stretching to make a copy or pick up a fax. No need to excuse herself and put down the phone to fetch something. Even better, the practice can more effectively utilize time when the receptionist is not on the phone, because she can still be responsible for answering calls, without being directly in front of a phone. At $50-$100 each, these units more than pay for themselves within a month, with increased productivity. Happier staff is a bonus.
Innovation is here to stay, and that is a good thing. Some of it is very exciting, and needs to be approached with prudence. Some is just silly. Be on the lookout for innovation that is not likely to be widely touted, but can deliver disproportionate benefits to practice operations.