During an era of global uncertainty, one thing is known for sure: the healthcare industry worldwide is facing its challenges, overcoming colossal obstacles, and moving into a better future through collaboration and innovation. 

During a global pandemic, in the midst of worldwide political unrest, and as the Earth faces enormous environmental challenges, leaders in the healthcare industry are finding ways to address its customers’ most pressing current challenges at the same time it forges inroads into ways to reshape and disrupt how it delivers medical care. During this challenging time of uncertainty in all industries, but most pointedly in healthcare, the innovation flywheel continues to spin. Organizations and entrepreneurs are rising to the challenge and creating solutions.  

Healthcare Innovators Rising to the Challenge 

As they offer opportunities to streamline or make healthcare delivery more efficient, medical innovations also introduce new areas of responsibility for healthcare leaders and administration. 

Joe Russo, director of the Edson College Learning Enterprise at Arizona State University’s Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation, stresses that as new processes and tools become available, it will be important for healthcare leaders to play a role in developing policies and systems surrounding the new technologies. These activities fall under two areas of healthcare innovation that have received particular attention during the coronavirus pandemic:  

Digital acceleration - The healthcare sector has long been a laggard in digital adoption, but the pandemic delivered a massive jolt of urgency to embrace new tools and technologies. Providers rapidly scaled offerings and were seeing 50 to 175 times the number of patients via telehealth appointments and have become more proactive in terms of digital communication. 

Workplace of the future – The pandemic has illuminated the extent to which healthcare can be delivered remotely, such as virtual care and remote patient monitoring, and virtual collaboration for professionals in the pharmaceutical and med-tech industries.

“Professionals in healthcare leadership and adjacent spaces are paying a lot of attention to how innovation changes the face of health policy in health systems around the world,” Russo pointed out. “It will be important for healthcare leaders to be involved in things as simple as whether insurance coverage will allow telehealth visits.”

“Telehealth is the big one,” Russo emphasized. “The quality and capacity of what telehealth can be has really jumped leaps and bounds over the past couple of years, and I think we'll continue to move forward if we have health leaders who are willing to embrace that innovation and continue pushing the bar.”

Access, Costs, Effectiveness

Medicine is an ever-changing science built upon tradition and discovery. It is also an industry that touches individuals personally, far greater than most business sectors. Ask most people about their healthcare and they may think about a recent knee injury or long-term health concern, but they are most likely to bring up health insurance and healthcare costs.

No question, the healthcare industry is huge. The global healthcare market will reach $665.37 billion by 2028, according to Verified Market Research. U.S. national healthcare expenditure reached $4.1 trillion in 2020, or $12,530 per person, and is estimated to reach $6.2 trillion by 2028, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid ServicesAnd the largest single driver of modern healthcare spending growth is technological change. 

Innovation During a Crisis

In many ways, we are only in the early stages of the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. Understandably, the effects of the pandemic on the medical industry will continue to be profound. Some companies may find themselves in a position of strength, while others are still buckling under challenging times. But it isn’t too early to learn some lessons from gains made by innovators during this crisis. 

First, we should recognize that there is a strong legacy of healthcare innovation. From 2014 to 2018, more than 580 healthcare technology deals were secured in the United States, each more than $10 million, for a total of more than $83 billion in value. Their main focus has been on three main categories: patient engagement, data and analytics, and new care models, according to a report on healthcare’s business outlook by McKinsey & Co. 

While the COVID-19 pandemic has placed previously unimaginable demands on global healthcare systems, the industry’s response has demonstrated its resilience and ability to bring innovations to market quickly. Through it all, the industry can point to many examples of innovative thinking and execution that have grown out of the need for change in the face of COVID-19.

Examples of innovative thinking: 

Aerosol Box: Taiwanese anesthesiologist Dr. Hsien Yung Lai published his design for an aerosol box in March of 2020. It was designed to keep physicians working in clinical environments safe during intubation, a known aerosol generating procedure, despite limited personal protective equipment (PPE). The open-source design has been implemented in clinical practice around the world.

Cloud-Based CPAP Monitoring: Ventilation device company ResMed sped up the European release of its patient data management software AirView to better serve patients during the pandemic. AirView uses cellular chips in ventilation devices and CPAP machines to send data to healthcare workers through the cloud.

Robot COVID Relief: Facing an increased patient-load and a simultaneous need to physically distance from patients, hospitals turned to robots for assistance. Moxi, a one-armed rolling robot designed to help hospitals, was unveiled shortly before the pandemic, Moxi’s duties were quickly pivoted to deliver PPE, lab samples and COVID-19 tests.

3D Printed Nasal Swabs: AI (artificial intelligence) software company Axial3D3D printed nasal swabs for COVID-19 tests to offer relief for a worldwide shortage of testing supplies. This solution was efficient, quick to produce, and kept samples more intact than traditional swabs.  

Mayo Clinic Platform: The Mayo Clinic accelerated the development of an AI-based program called Mayo Clinic Platform to provide at-home care for patients who would otherwise be hospitalized for chronic diseases such as heart failure and COPD. The platform was announced in 2019 as a way to transform healthcare through the use of AI, data analytics, and connected care. The advanced care program was launched in mid-2020 as the need for virtual and remote care exploded. This program was launched in cooperation with Medically Home, a Boston-based company that uses a patient-centric model to provide high-acuity care to highly complex patients.

Collaboration, Costs of Innovation 

Leaders in the healthcare industry know perhaps better than most that COVID-19 introduced a need for speed, but that sustaining a culture of innovation and change takes time, money, patience, and brilliance. Business transformations never happen in one fell swoop. Building a great industry, company, or team takes more than one successful innovation or lucky break. Innovative growth is a result of a gradual process that takes time, hard work, collaboration and deliberate action towards the eventual destination. In his 2011 book “Good to Great,” author Jim Collins described this process as the “flywheel effect,” change that feels like gradually moving a heavy flywheel, bit by bit until its own weight begins to propel it forward toward a breakthrough, and beyond. 

“There will be no new normal, in my view. There will only be a continuous series of the not-normal episodes, big surprises that rock our world yet again,” Collins says about life after the pandemic. “About 50% of great leadership is what you do with the unexpected.” 

As the pandemic begins to ease, companies will benefit by analyzing lessons learned during this latest crisis, Collins says. By installing the right people in the right jobs—high-caliber leaders with a solid focus on their company's underlying strengths—companies can drive their businesses through any crisis to ultimately reach their full potential.

A Window of Opportunity

Along with the accelerated pace of change and innovation in the healthcare industry, comes a unique opportunity to unlock big strategic moves. Given the speed of recent changes, it is likely that parts of the healthcare ecosystem will operate in very different ways in the coming years. 

As Russo points out, concrete innovations must be rolled out hand-in-hand with changes in the healthcare industry’s culture. In healthcare, it will be increasingly important to train staff to not only use the new tools, but to use them in ways that keep patient and caregiver needs in mind. While you need to be able to turn on the cameras, it may even be more important to empower medical providers in their efforts to help patients navigate new and sometimes difficult ways to engage with medical staff. 

In a post-crisis world, it will be important for healthcare administrators to assess how innovation can not only solve problems but can do so in ways that build a more effective, efficient, and equitable healthcare system.  

Next steps: Accelerate your career with the Health Innovation Leadership Certificate 

Are you interested in developing leadership skills that will help you drive innovation in the world of modern health care? Offered in conjunction, the Thunderbird School of Global Management and  Arizona State University’s nationally-ranked Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation is now enrolling for their online Health Innovation Leadership certificate program. This program is designed to empower global healthcare leaders with advanced tools to advocate for the best care and the latest evidence-based practices. 

Gain a solid understanding of the complexity in healthcare systems while mastering methods for applying best practices and new ideas in organizations and teams.

For more information or to begin your registration: Health Innovation Leadership Certificate

The Health Innovation Leadership Certificate is offered in conjunction with the Edson College of Nursing and Innovation and includes:  

  •      4 classes entirely online asynchronous teaching, start dates on demand
  •      2 executive education classes on leadership at Thunderbird
  •      2 classes on healthcare innovation at Edson College
  •     Stackable pathway into Edson’s master’s in healthcare innovation.  If a certificate holder applies and is accepted, they will receive nine credits to apply toward their master’s program.

It is for leaders or healthcare administrators who need training in innovation or healthcare providers who need training in leadership.

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