Five keys to health care innovation

Innovation begins with a thought and can take several shapes as research advances.

Here are five keys to being innovative in health care. 

1. Listen

You can’t learn if you are speaking. We have two ears and one mouth for a reason. If you do the simple math, we should listen twice as much as we speak.

2. Write

You should write down the problems and challenges you face and are trying to solve. You can’t solve it in your head. Ideas that are kept to oneself are worthless and often forgotten unless you write it down. Here’s a tip: use a pencil and paper instead of a computer.

3. Work

No idea is fully formed out of your head. Ernest Hemingway said the first draft of anything is crap. You have to do the work and refine it. And by work, I mean teamwork. You can’t do it in isolation — our job is to challenge each other. Solve problems and make it go.

4. Persist

True innovation takes a very long time. Sometimes, it takes 30 years to be an overnight success. In 1878, Thomas Edison focused on inventing a safe, inexpensive electric light to replace the gaslight — a challenge that scientists had been grappling with for 50 years. With the help of financiers like J.P. Morgan and the Vanderbilt family, Mr. Edison set up a company and began research and development. He made breakthroughs but continued to refine his work and in 1880 discovered the key to a long-lasting and affordable light bulb.

5. Repeat

The more you repeat a process, the more you work at it, and refine it, the greater the chance that it catches on. I point to the case of Buddy Mayer, who works in Northwell Health’s environmental services division and was looking at a problem the hospital faced every day even though nobody considered it a problem — it was a process that was occurring (cleaning the laundry) but was time-consuming and costly.
Through consistent observation, he realized really the only piece of the curtain that needed to be cleaned was the edges because that was where people grabbed the curtain and was the spot where germs would be transmitted.  And so he brought in other people and his idea was refined and brought to market as the Hand Shield — a cleanable edge to the curtain that could be wiped down. This is how innovation works and how one person’s idea can become the future.
Kevin Tracey, MD, is president of the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, and professor of molecular medicine and neurosurgery at the Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine. He is a leader in the study of the molecular basis of inflammation. He lectures nationally and internationally on inflammation, sepsis, the neuroscience of immunity and bioelectronic medicine. He is the author of Fatal Sequence (Dana Press) and more than 320 scientific papers.