Innovation in health care: Are we there yet?


Cambia Grove Advisory Panel member, Dorothy Teeter, celebrates you the health care innovator for your determined and essential role in health care transformation. Dorothy reflects on the multitude of complexities that confront the health ecosystem and the sometimes-serendipitous elements that actually drive change. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or positions of Cambia, Cambia Grove, or any other entity or organization.

I recently spoke with my health care colleagues about why health systems’ transformation seems so slow.

Why hasn’t innovation spurred more rapid and sustainable breakthroughs in the delivery of high quality, affordable person-centered health care services?

Inquiring minds wanted to know, inspiring my reflection on the last five years’ progress towards better health care services payment and delivery in Washington state.


Is it indeed true that innovation has been slow to take hold? 

My unscientific scan revealed just the opposite. Innovative strategies, tools and technologies have enabled significant progress in reliably delivering the right care in the right place at the right time:

•    Telehealth services are on the rise as consumers demand them and technology supports them
•    Home health services are expanding as payment reform, medical device innovations and an advanced workforce strategy enable it
•    Retail locations are available for basic primary care services as purchasers and interoperability policy support easier access
•    Quality networks of providers are forming as individual, health plan and purchaser expectations for reliable quality and cost performance rise
•    Electronic health records are the norm as federal HIT policy requires EHR adoption 
•    Performance measurement is contractually required by health plans as value-based payments expand
•    Public reporting and advanced data aggregation and analytic capability support the changing norm of price and quality transparency  
•    Health care systems are linking up with community based organizations to tackle upstream causes of health disparities

Having the privilege of leading health system improvement for over three decades, I continue to believe that building formal processes for innovation will always play a crucial role in health systems transformation. 

Innovation is not a linear process; it is an iterative one where disparate ideas, tools, technologies and finance mechanisms combine in different ways and at different times to improve the health care system.

Dynamic innovative change emerges from many sources including clinical evidence, responsiveness to consumer demand, federal payment and HIT policy, financial crises, technology advances or data/analytics breakthroughs. Focused attention on these drivers and creating the leadership culture and organizational practices to ensure that ideas can be experimentally combined in different ways will continue to spell success for high performing organizations and those they serve. And yet, even with the powerful forces that drive and fund successful and responsive innovation, it takes time to systematically implement and to widely disseminate innovative delivery models or payment strategies.  


Share your feats, and defeats

Our health care system is complex and resilient: it is made up of many interconnected parts that impact each other in unseen ways. Success of an innovation strategy in one sector or organization does not necessarily predict success in another. Which leads me to one of the most important elements of adapting innovation or improvement at a statewide or national scale: Dissemination of innovative strategies that have worked, and those that have not plays a vital role in the innovation equation.  

Without the sharing of successes as well as mistakes or failures, we cannot rapidly learn from each other and speed the process of improvement.

Detailed stories describing the technology or process supporting innovative change, data driven analysis of barriers and success factors leading to adoption of reliable improvements, open minded exposure to new tools, data, technologies and market research, and cross sector learning collaboratives/networks are all necessary elements in driving sustainable system improvements in ongoing pursuit of the Quadruple Aim. It can feel like slow work at times to be an innovator; after all, there is no crystal ball which can predict the next big innovative breakthroughs in health systems transformation. 

When feeling discouraged, take a few minutes to step back, recognize and appreciate the remarkable progress that has been made, in just a few short years. Congratulate yourself for your role as a curious and continuous learner and leader, and then get back in the fray. The fruits of your work will emerge, even if it takes a few years to see it, and those you serve will be grateful.


About Dorothy Teeter

Dorothy Teeter is Principal Consultant and Owner of Teeter Health Strategies and member of Cambia Grove’s Advisory Panel. She has over 30 years of health systems executive experience in leading population-based health system improvement and transformation strategy. In her most recent prior role, she served as the Director of the Washington State Health Care Authority. 

Dorothy earned a master’s in health services administration from the University of Washington and serves on the clinical faculty at the School of Public Health in the University of Washington.


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