Innovation and Research Essential for Medical Practices

February 20, 2015

Innovation and research are integral parts of a successful medical practice. Here's how to incorporate them toward the goal of excellent patient care.

If you look at the different components of the U.S. healthcare delivery system, the first and most integral part is patients. A patient's journey starts with any medical practice, hospital, clinic, nursing home, or any other healthcare entity. Once the patients cross into a healthcare entity, they become a part of its technology, software, diagnostic testing, equipment, healthcare staff, and good knowledgeable providers. With these components utilized properly, the best desired outcome for institutions, in the end, is the well-being of the patient, quality of care, and minimal cost.

The first integral part of a successful healthcare enterprise is human resources (discussed previously here), followed by innovation and research.

Innovation

The second integral part of a successful healthcare enterprise is innovation. Innovation, comprised of new ideas and concepts which can be evolved and utilized during the day-to-day operations management,is vital in every business.

Let's look closely at a simple innovation when it comes to taking care of elderly patients. Most elderly patients have compliance issues with medications, keeping up with their appointments, and taking care of the referrals that they need to schedule. I have observed a practice that went out of its way and involved their staff to come up with an innovative idea to help elderly patients go through these challenges much faster.

What they did was marvelous. Upon patient checkout, when patients were asked to come back for a follow-up visit or follow through on a referral, they would take the patient's phone and put a reminder within their cell phone with specific details of that reminder. Now most of the patients do have cell phones and most of them have smartphones; however, they may not have at times the skills to enter the information. Additionally, they may not remember to put a reminder properly into their phone. This practice's courteous action resulted in much better adherence towards recall visits or the referral visits for the elderly patients. This is just one example of how innovation can be helpful in day-to-day operations management.

Clearly, once any task is repeated consistently, it is essential that the staff is encouraged and asked:

• Is there a better way to do it?

• Is there a possibility of improving the end results?

With any operation and work flow planning, the ultimate goals are consistency, reliability, and success. If we invoke group thinking and planning throughout the team, it would definitely help the organization come up with better ideas and actions.

We can easily invoke group thinking through an organized, bi-monthly staff meeting to address the following:

• What are the tasks that are routinely performed?

• Is there anyone who has a better way of achieving that?

• Can we reduce time to perform our daily tasks?

• Can we benchmark for an expectable productivity for each team member?

Research

The next most important element in the success of a healthcare enterprise is research. We have seen that technology has evolved at lightning speed, 10 times faster than it did 20 years ago. Part of the reason is research that goes into the day-to-day life to make it better. We have seen a lot of research going toward the pharmaceutical, technology side, and many other sectors in the industry. Healthcare delivery is no different.

Billions of dollars are spent on healthcare research toward the ultimate goals of the well-being of the patient, eradication of chronic conditions or minimizing them, and ultimately reducing the cost of overall healthcare delivery.

When it comes to a medical practice, a small hospital, or any small outpatient clinic, what is the research we need to do? The research in those areas should focus on identifying either a technological evolution or process evolution. The practice should evaluate the challenges they are facing and assign a dedicated "research" team, comprised of devoted individuals to face those challenges.

A specific number of hours every week or month should be dedicated towards attending seminars, webinars, and conferences. Those in attendance should seek technological and process-wise improvement that can be introduced within the entity to make things more efficient.

Staff meetings and innovative ideas can delve into the problem areas of an organization, and a team should be assigned to evaluate the problems and establish solutions. Every organization should probe the following:

• Is there automation or a defined work flow that can be introduced?

• Is there a defined knowledge team that can be utilized as an outsource partner?

This perpetual analysis, looking into the day-to-day operations, problems and developing solutions, leads towards the ultimate objective of research.