Originally posted by Forbes Community Voice on November 21, 2017
By: Dr. Nora Zetsche
Nora Zetsche is an MD turned entrepreneur. She is the co-founder of Veta Health, a NY-based digital health company.
Today’s idealized CEOs are no longer the brusque, cigar-smoking, pocket-square sporting archetypes, but rather they’re agile visionaries who enthrall their audiences with vivid stories of society’s future. The compelling big picture drives devotion with new and existing customers. And, equally as important, it sets a clear goal for employees, colleagues and investors to work toward. Established corporations across industries have spent the last years overhauling their images to create the same appeal, shedding their stuffy outward appearance and reinventing their brand and messaging. For example, IBM went from being perceived as an outdated dinosaur of a company, no longer competitively viable, to an innovation driver and thought leader across industries.
The outward representation is only the tip of the iceberg, however. The true transformation pervades a company’s culture, where formerly top-down work environments have been broken down to foster intrapreneurship, promoting forward-thinking individualists to reinvent and disrupt from within. I started my career in medicine, a field churning out ground-breaking discoveries in research seemingly on a daily basis. Ironically, however, within a given hospital system stiff hierarchical structures have traditionally impeded true thought-exchange that challenges existing processes. We are seeing a transformation now. Hospitals are actively encouraging their staff across ranks to contribute their thoughts and ideas.
What’s important to remember, however, is that innovation that is not goal-oriented does not allow you to move forward. Imagine you are on an arctic expedition and every single one of your eight sled dogs is a powerhouse, but they are all pulling in different directions. You will go nowhere. Guide them in the same direction and you will reach your target ahead of everyone else.
I recently returned from a health technology conference where a surprising consensus among healthcare executives was the vision of fostering a “nourishing soil to let many flowers bloom,” when asked how hospitals can become more innovative. Personally, watching flowers (or alternatively grass) grow is not the analogy I find most fitting for rapid innovation cycles. More importantly, in my opinion, the lack of a big picture vision is exactly the roadblock thwarting the successful healthcare industry transformation everyone is yearning for.
Hospitals have a unique ecosystem challenge as is. While every hospital has an executive suite, the responsibility to carry out the hospital’s main objective (caring for patients) falls upon the doctors, nurses and other medical staff. This translates into decision-making power on multiple levels of the hierarchy. Doctors or nurses unhappy about the change can stall initiatives introduced by management. Management can shoot down technologies or services the medical staff promotes if the budgeting doesn’t work out. So how can you get everyone aligned to move forward together? Develop, verbalize and promote your vision internally and externally.
The healthcare industry needs to follow the example set by other successful industry transformations. The majority of employees at forward-thinking automotive companies are now excited about a future of car-sharing and electric propulsion because their executives are actively sharing their future vision of new business models and opportunities created by innovation. Consequently, the staff is much more likely to embrace change instead of boycotting it. Caring for patients is no longer the only objective a hospital needs to strive towards. A bigger picture needs to be established, illustrating how innovation and technology can and will be leveraged to create the best possible experience for patients and staff alike.
As a health tech entrepreneur, I think we can truly spearhead this change. We have the necessary outside perspective on untapped opportunities in the health industry, as we are gaining insights from countless conversations with industry leaders and constituents across the ecosystem. We are (or at least should be) aware of the market landscape, evaluating how different technologies can complement each other to best address existing gaps. Last but not least, we understand the possibilities but also the limitations of technology. Healthcare entrepreneurs have a wealth of knowledge we should actively share to help health system executives develop a clear and achievable vision.
Anyone who has been to a health tech conference will agree that there are a lot of exciting technologies out there. Hospitals have been quick to understand the need to incorporate these innovations but often fail to verbalize the end goal. This leaves us with patients having to download five apps before even setting foot inside the hospital and clinicians jotting down the same notes over and over so every disparate platform has a copy. Hospital staff inboxes are flooded with emails from startups offering any and all solutions. So the best strategy to handle the overwhelming email flood has become, “select all” and “delete all.” These hospitals are stuck on a sled with dogs pulling in all directions.
With a clear vision in place, innovation can be leveraged to create a better experience for all. Use this blueprint to evaluate existing resources and technologies for their fit. Clearly define technology needs to allow for a more transparent and effective collaboration with vendors. Heighten staff engagement so everyone knows what the targeted vision looks like. Health system executives need to become the agile visionaries who can drive and guide innovation so everyone is pulling toward a common target, reaching the destination ahead of everyone else.