Five impacts of an innovative culture

Health care is more than patient care. To stay viable, organizations need an innovative culture — staff who stay curious and constantly develop themselves.

Ideas can come from anyone — physicians, researchers, staff. Being innovative drives new solutions to health challenges. 

Here are five reasons health care organizations need to innovate.

1. Encourages employees to think about their jobs

Innovative ideas can come from the ground floor or the top floor. There is no top-down mindset. All of Northwell's employees are encouraged to think about their jobs and how to best innovate the areas they know best to positively impact overall patient care, quality and finances. When innovation is seen as everyone’s job, you encourage it at all points of the organization — not only at the research institute, but everything from clinical care to the corporate offices. Northwell runs a health system-wide contest for every employee to think about how they can improve care or operations and put real funding behind the winners.

2. Improves financial and strategic performance

With shrinking reimbursement, hospitals and health care providers are being asked to do more for less. We need to think about not only how we do that and survive but also how do we do that and thrive? Are there opportunities where we can realize significant cost savings by enhancing our processes? Are there innovations we can commercialize and bring to market to help add to the bottom-line?

3. Becomes part of an organization's DNA

When you challenge people to innovate and reward them when they do, you’re communicating an expectation and reinforcing a core value. We define innovation in the broadest possible terms for that reason so that it occurs throughout our organization. Continual lifelong learning, quality improvement and innovation have long been among the defining values of our organization (we were the first health care organization to develop a corporate university -- the Center for Learning and Innovation), for the purposes of looking at the way we resource and implement ideas to enhance patient care.

4. Serves a higher purpose

Innovation is not an end in itself. It is a means to a higher purpose. Our purpose is delivering world-class compassionate care. Focusing on this purpose and providing a source of inspiration gives meaning to work and unifies an organization. It motivates employees to contribute in ways that are far greater than themselves.

5. Enables collaboration

It’s important to be deliberate in the organizational structure that enables the connections and collaboration necessary for innovation to occur both within the organization and with like-minded partners outside it. For example, we created our corporate venturing arm to invest in high-risk, high-reward ideas that can deliver both strategic and financial value to the system. We also cultivate relationships with innovative companies and organizations doing work in areas relevant to Northwell. We can then help these partners develop and commercialize their ideas in a way that creates value for our patients.

Thomas Thornton is senior vice president of Northwell Ventures, where he identifies and fosters innovative ideas that enhance the growth of the health system's clinical and nonclinical enterprises. Mr. Thornton manages all the Northwell innovation programs, including technology commercialization, enterprise growth and investment management. He previously led the Healthcare Innovations Alliance at Cleveland Clinic.