Transforming the culture of healthcare has become the most important issue for medical innovation – more so than the innovations themselves.
There are two cultures in healthcare. There’s the dominant, traditional medical culture that moves at the speed of clinical trials and medical research. It stands above the new data-driven, tech-savvy, innovate-and-live-entrepreneurially “new” culture.
It’s pretty clear after a couple days at MedCity CONVERGE this week in Philadelphia that New Culture is ready to take the lead in healthcare. Many of the new approaches are not all-the-way there yet. But the structure is now in place to do so: many leaders from the old have embraced the new approach, new thinkers have moved up the ranks, government policies and other incentives have changed, and technology (with business models) are coming of age.
Next step: turn the battleship known as the medical industry in a new direction.
“Culture eats strategy for lunch,” said Naomi Fried, the chief innovation officer of Boston Children’s Hospital, during a session on how to innovate in big companies (alongside panelists who largely had “innovation” in their titles from Pfizer, Highmark, UnitedHealth and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital).
“This applies to innovation,” Fried said. “So if you want to have innovation in an organization it’s not enough to be focused on strategy in a large organization. You need to be focused on building a culture that supports in embraces innovation.”
Culture – and the change in who controls the dollars and power in healthcare – dotted many of the discussions at CONVERGE. Mayo Clinic talked about its embryonic Center for Connected Care and touched on educating doctors and changing healthcare culture. Kauffman Foundation outlined new ways hospitals are embracing and testing early-stage technologies. Discussions around new revenue streams for pharma talked of projects punished by “the Street” for taking a new way, and the logistics of getting investment analysts on board. Entrepreneurs talked of challenging the orthodoxy of approaches like group purchasing organizations.
Ad Rawcliffe from GSK talked of doctors as former customers and the logistics of finally cracking the “me-too” culture that sends drugmakers making incrementally better versions of existing drugs. “Products that lack differentiation are being punished in the marketplace,” said Rawcliffe – who said that only a few years ago analysts simply rewarded me-too drugs as safer plays.
“The whole dynamic of what constitutes risk in the R&D setting has changed over the last decade,” he said.
You could dismiss a lot innovation and culture talk as simply abuse of buzzwords (there are lots of good reasons to hate each of those terms). But I don’t think that’s the case now. There were tangible examples of companies taking new approaches to infuse new thinking into their organizations. Executives realize that the only way to make new products better and faster – and make as much money as they want – will only come if new healthcare culture overrides the old.
There are still so many barriers. Many states have laws that limit the use of telemedicine – like a requirement to physically see a patient before prescribing medication. Too many people think technology is the solution instead of being a tool that just needs to be better used in a solution.
But it’s clear that time would be better spent instead of making new apps or other products to pushing hard to change laws that embrace telemedicine and new innovations, and bring new culture into old healthcare companies than it would be to create new products themselves. Once that transition takes place, new products will flourish.