Hospitals are on the hunt for new ideas to transform health care, and some are looking to reality television for inspiration.
Several health care institutions recently have tested TV’s “Shark Tank” approach to seeking out innovation — gathering a panel of pros to hear invention ideas from startups. In October, Boston Children’s Hospital hosted an Innovation Summit, where a few finalists from a list of 40 applicants pitched their ideas to a board of experts, including physicians and “Shark Tank” cast member Daymond John.
Boston Children’s selected two catheter-related ideas, awarding the winners with a $12,500 payout and invaluable advice from its gurus. Margaret Coughlin, senior vice president and chief marketing and communications officer, says innovation is the lifeblood of the institution, and leaders wanted a way to unearth and act on ideas in a speedier fashion.
“We really needed to light a fire and spark, not only the people who work for us, but also spark the connection between corporations, venture capitalists and policymakers with the innovators,” Coughlin says. “We need to continually work hard to create and nurture that innovation ecosystem, and to help people find ways to bring bigger ideas to reality.”
Boston Children’s first sent a call out to inventors back in the spring, using various channels from social media to advertising. The fact that both winners addressed central-line infections, Coughlin says, was purely happenstance; the hospital was just looking to solve any health care problem with a solution that was easily duplicated and spread across other institutions.
Brigham and Women’s Hospital, meanwhile, focused a “Shark Tank” event earlier this year on two specific areas — improving the inpatient experience and increasing engagement with outpatients. The hospital’s experts selected four mobile apps at an April event, after winnowing down more than 40 responses, and offered a “turnkey” path to testing innovations relatively quickly. Winners included MySafeCare, allowing inpatients to report safety issues, and Twine Health, which helps patients to monitor chronic conditions while staying connected to their physicians.
Twine already launched a pilot at Brigham in September, which now can be downloaded for users on smartphones. John Moore, chief executive officer and co-founder, says the path cleared by Brigham was critical to getting the product launched in a month as opposed to a year. He believes that hospital leaders are learning that they need to innovate faster in today’s marketplace.
“This is all happening because health care organizations are really feeling the pressure to get on outcomes and cost improvements quickly,” he says. “They’re going to start taking on more and more risk, and they know that if they don’t move quickly, they’re going to have a hard time.”
Lesley Solomon, executive director of the Brigham Innovation Hub, says it’s critical that hospital leaders connect with outside inventors. “A solution that’s not attached to a problem is never going to connect within the hospital,” Solomon says. “We have so many issues that we need to deal with that we can’t just plug and play a solution that has no insight into our day-to-day [work]. That’s why it’s so important for these startups to connect directly with a clinical stakeholder who can help develop, tweak, shape the direction of the future product or service that’s being piloted.”