What is healthcare innovation?

Improvements in processes and technology that lead to better health outcomes drive healthcare innovation

Scientist holding DNA gel in front of samples for testing in laboratory

What is healthcare innovation and why is it important?

Healthcare innovation can be as simple as changing a form to check out a patient five minutes faster or as complex as an immunotherapy that targets specific types of cancer cells. Any developments, simple or complex, that lead to improvements in health outcomes and patient experiences are healthcare innovations.

Right now, the healthcare sector is facing many large challenges, such as stringent regulations, privacy concerns and steeply rising costs. Many leaders and healthcare professionals are turning to new technologies and informatics to develop smarter types of healthcare delivery.

These innovations are important because as networks of people and technology become more interconnected, healthcare organizations are going to need better tools for solving health challenges at larger scales. The COVID-19 pandemic in particular has demonstrated there is a strong need for better data systems and information exchange (link resides outside of ibm.com) between healthcare systems, governments and other organizations. The quick shift to telehealth services during the pandemic also showed that even an industry as stringently regulated as healthcare can innovate rapidly.

Above all, the most important reason for healthcare innovation is to help people. Whether it's through new treatments, new technology or new processes, healthcare innovations will give clinicians and healthcare organizations the tools they need to focus more on the needs of their patients and to help people improve their lives.


How does innovation drive healthcare transformation?

Currently, many healthcare systems are organized around delivering services without necessarily considering health outcomes. There are three ways innovation can help turn those systems into what experts call a learning health system (link resides outside of ibm.com) that continuously improves care.

Digital transformation in healthcare

Modern healthcare technology and the switch to digital records has completely changed how medicine is practiced. Now that conversion to digital records is largely complete, new innovations will focus on making those records more connected so health systems can use big data and insights to improve patient care.

Evolving business models and healthcare ecosystems

New healthcare business models, such as value-based care, compensate care teams for patient outcomes rather than services. As a result, healthcare organizations have to both refine their own processes and improve how they collaborate with other organizations in a wider healthcare ecosystem to deliver the best care.

Innovating in healthcare delivery

To adjust to value-based care (link resides outside of ibm.com) , healthcare organizations must seek to improve care and lower costs. That means streamlining both clinical and business processes. For example, making financial approvals efficient so there are fewer delays or ensuring clinicians have timely access to a patient's most recent records so they can make better decisions.


Innovative technology in healthcare

In healthcare, the evolution of how and when professionals use technology has had three stages – digitization, disruption and transformation. Digitization involved setting up digital capabilities that support routine healthcare processes or services. CT scans and MRIs are examples of how digitization has changed healthcare services, and digital tools like automated billing have changed administrative processes. Ultimately, digitization has made it easier for data to be stored, accessed and shared.

Disruption involves newer technologies, such as artificial intelligence, mobile technology, analytics and cloud, which are changing the ways in which people, organizations and governments interact. These disruptive innovations are providing an unprecedented level of connection between people and leading the world to become more consumer-centric. As healthcare evolves, more health system integration will bring together digital functions or processes across enterprises that used to be separate. Advancements in electronic health records (EHRs) and other technologies are also helping to achieve medical interoperability among payers, providers and other healthcare organizations.

Digital transformation in healthcare is ongoing and will involve a fundamental reimagining of the way payers, healthcare providers and others operate and engage with patients, consumers and stakeholders. Once a series of segmented activities, technology is transforming healthcare into an integrated ecosystem in which healthcare professionals can effectively address their challenges on a larger scale while maintaining a patient-centered focus and delivering value-based care.


Overcoming challenges in healthcare innovation

Because of strict regulations and a desire to avoid causing unintended harm, new innovations in healthcare are often rigorously tested and adopted gradually. This methodical approach to change is completely understandable, yet can also be very time-consuming.

Part of what makes this approach so lengthy is it can be hard to access the data researchers and innovators need to conduct thorough tests. As technology improves and healthcare data becomes more integrated and accessible in real-time, the pace of innovation will almost certainly increase. Research will be easier to achieve and more efficient, which will help healthcare organizations test new innovations more rapidly and build up the evidence they need to incorporate them into patient care.

Technology and data will be key to creating the innovations that move modern healthcare forward as healthcare leaders look for ways to solve more complex health challenges.


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