There’s no shortage of innovation in the lab industry. Over the past several decades, advances in technology, testing, and processes have enabled us to deliver lab services more quickly, accurately, and efficiently. Laboratorians of all disciplines, from pathologists to medical technologists, have contributed to the invention of next-generation tools and techniques.
What fuels the fires of such innovation? What challenges do innovative minds seek to overcome? What are the causes and conditions that allow creative solutions to emerge?
Let’s look at some ways to answer these questions—and at some techniques from leading laboratorians for fostering innovative thinking in your lab.
The seismic changes taking place in today’s healthcare environment make innovation more important than ever. As the landscape shifts, we must make a corresponding change in our thinking about how we deliver lab services
Dr. Will Finn, president of the American Society for Clinical Pathology, cites the Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s (IHI) Triple Aim framework as a key impetus driving innovation today. The IHI Triple Aim advocates developing systems to address 3 key dimensions of healthcare simultaneously:
Improved patient care experience
Improved health of populations
Reduced per capita health care costs
These noble goals can ignite the passions of laboratorians who are eager to innovate for the greater good. But these goals can also be at odds with each other and potentially impede innovation. For this reason, Dr. Finn emphasizes that pragmatism is just as important as passion when it comes to innovation.
We’re surrounded by innovation today. It comes in myriad forms and serves multiple purposes. How you innovate in your lab will depend largely on the circumstances you face and the pragmatic challenges you seek to overcome.
Reflect for a moment on what innovation means to you. Then look at the following examples and discover the possibilities for innovation that may be within your reach.
Perhaps the greatest impediment to innovative thinking is the focus many laboratorians have on how their labs will be measured. This includes how labs receive payment for services rendered and the criteria that accrediting organizations use for their assessments of labs.
While it’s understandable for laboratorians to be concerned with such matters, a focus on procedures and tactical measures can be stifling when it comes to innovation. A better approach is to focus on what matters—not what’s measured—as a way of inspiring creative solutions to real-world challenges.
To open up the floodgates of innovative thinking, why not take a page from Apple’s playbook? Follow their lead to create products and develop ideas that are so spectacularly innovative they can only be described as insanely great.
Set aside concerns for the moment about how you will get paid and how accrediting organizations will rate your lab. Seek out ways to free up capacity for your best leaders and most creative thinkers. Encourage them to brainstorm insanely great ideas to best serve those you serve every day: your patients. Developing ideas that bring great value will ultimately translate to greater value for your lab.
Tasks that seem impossible to laboratorians may seem perfectly reasonable to patients. Take turnaround times on lab results. What first appears to be an unrealistic patient expectation can become the catalyst to insanely great innovation—if we see it as an opportunity to satisfy customer expectations.
There are many pragmatic approaches to fire up the passion of innovative thinking in your lab. Here are some examples, courtesy of our lab leaders.
Innovative thinking can come from anywhere within the lab-not just from the top. Leading from your position means taking advantage of opportunities to initiate positive change from wherever you are in the hierarchy.
An example Wally Hopp cites is the Radiology Department at the University of Michigan Hospital. They innovated to reduce the risk of retained objects in patients after surgery through the use of barcodes, x-ray opaque chips, and imaging processes.
They were not asked to do this. They simply led from their position by identifying a challenge and innovating to solve it. Laboratorians can do likewise, by thinking creatively about how to solve challenges through the services they provide.
Working at the top of your job classification means all disciplines within a lab perform to the best of their abilities within their job descriptions. Doctors never perform the functions of nurses; nurses never perform the functions of technicians; and so on down the line.
This not only increases efficiency, it also encourages innovative, entrepreneurial thinking. To work at the "top" of your job classification is to reach out and stretch the limits of the value you provide beyond everyday expectations.
As laboratorians, we often ask ourselves what?" and ·how?" questions, which are related to processes and management.
To spur innovation, we must instead ask ourselves "why?" \Mly do we do what we do? What is our purpose? When people associate their work with a sense of purpose, it creates a lot of space for innovative thinking to arise. Someone motivated by "why?" wants to find creative solutions for the greater good.
There’s much more to say about lab innovation. In a future article, we’ll share with you some real-world case studies of innovation in action from our lab leaders. Until then, we leave you with these words from Dr. Finn, inspiring all of us to do our part for innovation.
IHI Triple Aim Initiative
This section of the IHI website provides an overview of the Triple Aim, its key measures, a Q&A to determine if your organization is ready to pursue it, stories from organizations who have been successful with it, and much more.
What drives innovation in health care?
By John R. Kimberly
This video presentation from John R. Kimberley, Henry Bower Professor of Health Care Management at The Wharton School of Business, provides an overview of his continuing research in refining theories of innovation and finding practical ways to implement them.
7 habits of innovative thinkers
By Harvey Deutschendorf
This article from Fast CompanyTM describes the role of emotional intelligence in innovative thinking and details common traits innovative thinkers share.
How great leaders inspire action
By Simon Sinek
In this seminal TED Talk, Simon Sinek describes his “golden circle” model of inspirational leadership, the core of which is the question “why?”