Just as human DNA determines individual traits, innovation DNA will define an organization as it grows into the future. Innovation DNA has building blocks, too: maturing digital technology that is more commoditized and accessible; scientific advancements that are discrete yet deeply disruptive; and emerging DARQ (distributed ledgers, artificial intelligence, extended reality and quantum computing) technologies that are poised to scale rapidly.
COVID-19 has accelerated DARQ technologies beyond expectations. Look at how the World Health Organization, Oracle, Microsoft, IBM and others are collaborating on HACERA’s MiPasa, a blockchain-based open data hub that aims to quickly identify COVID-19 carriers and hotspots.1 Or look at Los Angeles’ Cedars-Sinai hospital, which is using VR simulations to train doctors to treat infectious diseases.2 Healthcare IT leaders are weaving technological building blocks together to set a course for the future.
Necessity is the mother of invention
Difficult times can lead to creative problem solving. COVID-19 forced healthcare organizations to innovate as life and death situations called for urgent action. Many unleashed innovations within their own organizations and partnered with the ecosystem to accomplish great feats in short time. The pandemic has resulted in new players being invited into the healthcare sector to help manage the surge in demand and ultimately save lives within and across national borders. Automaker General Motors teamed with Ventec Life Systems to make thousands of ventilators. Medical device companies rapidly developed new virus tests. Shoe manufacturers altered their business models to make protective masks instead of Mary Janes.3
The complexity and uncertainty of the pandemic highlights the pressing need to formalize new ways of innovating more widely and effectively. Open innovation became a vital strategy. It starts at the top. Leaders need to develop the capability to innovate and do so quickly. Response methods must keep pace as problems emerge and potentially become more challenging. Team structures should be built to enable fast pivots to innovation. In the future, there is likely to be increased need for "extreme teaming" that reaches across sectors and across nations to co-collaborate for innovations that address major public health challenges.
Make room for innovation
Innovation will not happen in a vacuum. Healthcare organizations must promote creativity, collaboration and unconventional thinking. Having the "space" for innovation isn’t just about have innovation centers and R&D hubs. It’s about making the space to test, learn and recalibrate. Most healthcare organizations—as with many businesses—are focused on positive outcomes. This is the desired end goal, but the path to success may involve some flubs.
This is especially tricky in countries where healthcare is government-funded. Citizens may view failed experiments as wasteful of public funds. The reality is, if we cannot test and learn, we cannot innovate. For every innovation that works, there may be three of four that did not. That’s how we explore, how we grow and how we embed innovation into the organization’s DNA.
Technology enables innovation at scale
As healthcare organizations adapt to new ways of working coming out of the crisis—and as they pursue innovation—they are realizing that digital is not a differentiator. It is essential to doing business and it a building block of innovation. Maturing digital technologies, scientific advancements, and emerging DARQ technologies will help bring new ideas to fruition.
These technologies proved essential in supporting COVID-19 triage efforts. For instance, hospitals in China used AI to read CT scans of lungs, reducing the burden on hospitals and enabling earlier intervention.4 Hospitals in the United States are using AI to guide and triage individuals with COVID-19 symptoms, helping to prevent them from needing to go to a hospital for care.5
Technology is fueling scientific advancements in coming up with a vaccine and other treatment methods for COVID-19. For instance, Massachusetts General Hospital formed a joint venture with Hoth Therapeutics to speed vaccine development. They are using a technology platform to quickly generate and test "self-assembling" vaccines that use heat shock proteins to elicit an immune response to the virus.6 And AppliedVR, a therapeutic VR company, is partnering with Red One Medical to offer VR stress management programs to healthcare workers on the frontlines.7
Clearly new technologies can help save lives, but businesses need the right infrastructure to support them. Healthcare organizations must remove legacy barriers before they can explore emerging digital technologies, scientific advancements and DARQ technologies. Legacy systems hold valuable data that is trapped. Digitally decoupling unlocks data and allows legacy systems to run in parallel with new technologies as modernization initiatives roll out, steadily reducing technical debt along the way.
Stemming the spread
Contact tracing mobile apps are being quickly developed to track the spread of COVID-19. The Australian government launched public health app COVIDSafe in April and two million citizens downloaded it in the first 24 hours it was live.8 In South Korea, the Corona 100m app alerts users if they come within a 100-meter radius of a recently tracked COVID-19 patient. The app was downloaded more than 1 million times within approximately its first two weeks of launching.9 Such apps spark questions about data and privacy—issues that must be a key consideration as more innovations like these continue to emerge.
What can healthcare leaders do next?
1 "How the Pandemic Is Pushing Blockchain Forward;" Harvard Business Review; April 27, 2020
2 "Doctors and nurses are using VR to learn skills to treat coronavirus patients;" CNN Business; April 21, 2020
3 "Shoes to Masks: Corporate Innovation Flourishes in Coronavirus Fight;" Wall Street Journal; April 16, 2020
4 "Chinese Hospitals Deploy AI to Help Diagnose Covid-19;" Wired; February 26, 2020
5 "How Hospitals Are Using AI to Battle Covid-19;" Harvard Business Review; April 3, 2020
6 "Researchers harness new technology for rapid COVID-19 vaccine development;" FierceBiotech; April 6, 2020
7 Yahoo Finance, May 4, 2020
8 "COVID-19 contact tracing apps are coming to a phone near you. How will we know whether they work?", Science Magazine, May 21, 2020
9 "Coronavirus mobile apps are surging in popularity in South Korea;" CNN Business; February 28, 2020