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Fostering healthcare innovation in times of crisis

Written by Professor of Healthcare Innovations Sharon Mickan.

Management theorists have long known that innovation in the workplace improves efficiency and problem solving. In healthcare, the stakes are higher. It isn’t just about improved organisational outcomes – in healthcare, innovation can mean improved patient safety.

The current environment of rapid change due to the COVID-19 pandemic crisis presents many opportunities for hospitals and health services to maximise staff innovation and problem solving, whilst maintaining high-quality care.  

Innovating through telehealth, diagnostics and treatments

There has never been a greater need for our frontline healthcare workers to act innovatively to meet the complex and competing demands this current crisis places on our healthcare system – a system that was already at capacity.

A recent example of a healthcare innovation is the policy change to enable all Australians to access telehealth consultations with GPs and other healthcare providers. Future innovations such as point-of-care diagnostic testing for COVID-19 will likely emerge more quickly than usual and even the design and regulation of clinical trials for drug treatment for COVID-19 are being fast-tracked in Australia and internationally.

Innovation defined

Put simply, innovative behaviour can be summarised as ‘individuals or teams identifying and solving work-based problems, and then ensuring these solutions are implemented’.

In healthcare we see many innovative behaviours, from simplifying routines through to improving work practices and introducing new technologies. However, the ‘process of being innovative’ in healthcare is not just based on individuals learning new skills and acquiring knowledge; it requires a deeper understanding of individual and organisational behaviours throughout the health system.

Why innovate?

Innovation by its very nature is risky and may require extra commitment and effort, above and beyond routine workloads. However, it is recognised that organisational commitment influences innovative behaviour. We also know that when individuals feel supported by their organisation, and perceive their organisation to be supportive of innovation, that they are more likely to be creative, generate new ideas and innovate.  Feelings of commitment and support develop when health workers help each other, share information and collaborate to solve problems. Consequently, individuals often contribute more than what is expected of them, which in turn reinforces this supportive behaviour.

When individuals feel supported by their leaders and their organisation, a positive and empowering cycle begins – one which builds dedication and loyalty and fosters further innovative behaviour. Healthcare leaders are key to encouraging - or limiting - frontline staff to challenge, re‐imagine, and re‐design the way they deliver services. Committed and supported individuals make innovative decisions that influence practice and add value to their organisation and their colleagues – supporting win-win outcomes!

How to support innovation

All this change presents a challenge - and that challenge is letting go of ‘traditional’ approaches to management which aren’t always geared towards supporting innovation. What is needed for our healthcare system to survive, and indeed thrive, through innovation is authentic leadership, respectful relationships and empowered staff.

For leaders, a solution could be to prioritise order over control and build a culture of trust and collaboration, by:

  • Checking in with staff to identify activities that are wasting time or resources. Then, problem solving to streamline processes to maximise resources for the most important tasks.
  • Identifying the decisions only you can make and delegate the rest.
  • Being consistent, clear and transparent in all communications.
  • Ensuring each staff member understands how they can contribute and feels that their contribution is valued.
  • Uniting the efforts of all staff within a cohesive team, that has a clearly articulated purpose, and works together towards a common goal.

Are you up to the challenge?

Learn more about Bond's Healthcare Innovations programs.

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