A study of innovation processes used in the United States healthcare system

Jon R Padfield, Purdue University


The United States healthcare system is under tremendous pressure due to a convergence of many different factors (Congressional Budget, 2012, p. 52), (Shorb, 2006, pp.16-17), (Callahan, 2009, chap. 5). These factors are driving a need for an accelerated pace of innovation across the continuum of healthcare services including how diseases may be prevented, detected earlier, monitored, treated, reported and investigated (Lazarus & Fell, 2011). This study used a survey of 595 innovators published in the Healthcare Innovations Exchange (Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, February 2, 2012) to answer questions related to how innovation processes (i.e. problem identification, solution generation, solution selection, and solution evaluation) work in a healthcare environment. The survey found 87% of the healthcare issues addressed by the innovations in this study were characterized by the innovators as "common knowledge of long standing issues." The survey also found the two most common sources of innovative ideas were "a practice, technology or idea adapted from another area of healthcare" and "brainstorming sessions." Ideas suggested by patients or suppliers, and ideas generated through methodologies such as "Theory of Constraints" and "Theory of Innovative Problem Solving" (aka TRIZ) were cited much less often by the innovators responding to the survey. The study found the median size team that worked on the innovations consisted of five people who collectively represented three departments or functions. The median elapsed time from the identification of a problem to the implementation of a solution was 19-22 months. The survey and interviews conducted in this study indicate that many of the innovations shared in the Healthcare Innovation Exchange were micro-targeted toward specific needs within the service area covered by the healthcare facility where the innovator is employed as opposed to general improvements within healthcare. Innovations based upon "a practice, technology or idea from another industry" were approximately as effective as those based upon "a practice, technology or idea from another area of healthcare." However, nearly a quarter of the innovations inspired by other industries were attempted following ten or more previous attempts to address the same problem. This suggests that the problems addressed by innovations inspired by ideas from other industries may be among the more challenging issues facing healthcare and healthcare innovators may benefit from looking more closely at other industries.




Dyrenfurth, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Public health|Health care management

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