Lessons in innovation from the health care industry

Thursday - 9/23/2010, 7:06pm EDT

Jim Champy, chairman emeritus, Dell Services Consulting

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Every agency faces the challenges of how to improve services, reduce costs and expand access.

Jim Champy offers ways to find innovative solutions to problems. He focuses on examples in the health care industry in his book "Reengineering Health Care."

Champy, chairman emeritus of Dell Services Consulting, joined Francis Rose for his Industry Chatter segment this week to discuss the processes of innovation in health care that can be applied to other industries.

Overworked and facing costs that rival their incomes, health care professionals are at a point where they are open to trying new ideas, Champy said.

In his book, Champy cites one doctor who initiated shared appointments, seeing up to a dozen patients at one time. These group visits saved the doctor time and offered patients a way to exchange information about symptoms and treatment.The appointment took on a "social network ambience," according to the book.

Champy said he understands some physicians' concerns about trying something new because health care is a "risky business." But once physicians see a new way of doing something -- and seeing that it works better -- they will move toward the new way.

So how does innovation happen?

The common view is that standardization opposes innovation, but Champy said just the opposite is true.

"By standardizing the rote, straightforward things an organization does, it frees up the resources and the time to really do innovation. Time after time, that's what plays out," he said.

What's helped drive innovation is technology. With the accumulation of electronic health records, proponents of a new procedure can pull together data that points to relationships between treatments and results.

Champy puts the impetus for change on managers, saying reform "must be driven from the top" to create an environment for innovation.

But the ideas themselves will come from the people who work and receive services in the health care industry, Champy said.

"The frontline will show you where the dysfunction is," he said.

These solutions can be very simple. Champy points to one hospital where the orthopedic surgeons and radiology departments were having problems communicating with each other. The solution was to literally break down walls, put the two department together, and have meetings every morning.

"That's not rocket science," Champy said. "It's innovation."