Hospitals can be the best living laboratories for innovation in healthcare. With direct access to doctors, nurses, and patients, there is no better place to understand healthcare’s unmet needs at such a granular level.

But, innovating within a hospital isn’t easy. Many people (and committees) must vet new products or services before they even touch the clinicians or patients. Can it improve outcomes and reduce costs? Is the technology easily integrated into workflow? Will it make people’s jobs easier or create more burdens? Can you get hospital staff and patients to use it?

I’m naturally curious and passionate about hospitals and I’ve had the fortune of working with some very good ones in my career. And as with any sector, it’s really important that we understand how hospitals work, what drives them and where they’re headed. Keeping in tune with these trends helps to drive more value in our communications. And innovation is a big focus right now.

So I recently attended a Hospital Innovation Programs Roundtable hosted by the New York Health Innovation Meetup Group. According to the organizer Alex Fair, CEO, MedStartr, the meet-up group was formed to get people on “the geek-to-freak-to-hero train” motivated to “stop people from dying for unacceptable reasons.” This roundtable convened leaders of Hospital-based innovation programs, including large NYC health systems Mount Sinai, New York-Presbyterian, and Northwell Health.

This Roundtable had a room filled with entrepreneurs, medical professionals, tech gurus, and investors up for the challenge. Here are my key takeaways on the challenges and opportunities they’re facing to innovate in a hospital setting:

  • Value-based care is driving the desire for innovation: With fee-for-service going away and the movement toward population health, hospitals need innovative ways to manage patients outside of the traditional hospital setting. They want to rely on clinicians and technology to keep patients healthy and out of the hospital.
  • Large health systems are looking for ways to be more nimble: The panelists understand the pressures of a start-up and the need to move quickly. They’re trying to move away from pilots, which requires months of stops and starts for evaluation, and determine if an innovation will work without a pilot. They may take a ground-up approach with a clinical champion who will recommend a product to patients before conducting a formal research study. 
  • They want simple, high-impact solutions: There is a lot of opportunity for simple innovations that don’t need to integrate with workflows and electronic health records (EHRs). Technology that is a build-on and simple (hint: text message) is more likely to succeed. Prevention, personalization in diagnosis, behavioral health, and supply chain were noted as areas ripe for opportunity. As one panelist pointed out, “the more boring it is the greater opportunity I have to make money on that investment.”
  • Clinical champions are vital to success: They are looking inward and outward for ways to innovate, but the physician advocate is key to making the use case for an innovation. It is the best proof concept. Bottom line, a clinical champion means their patients are using it.
  • Hospital innovation is about to explode: Working in healthcare for over a decade, I was amazed by the innovations being explored. Daily uber-like food delivery service for IBS patients to meet strict diet restrictions. Weekly routine visits for disabled patients over video shown to prevent infections. Text message programs proven to help alcoholics drink less.

Although it’s not easy, if an innovation can survive the scrutiny and realities of a large health system, it has a good chance of success. So what does it take to be a healthcare innovator?

It starts with thinking that you can change the world. People are dying for unacceptable reasons. You believe this is wrong and you can fix it. And after attending this roundtable, I believe they will.