Give physicians some slack to drive healthcare innovation

Contrary to conventional wisdom, healthcare providers may want to invest in physicians who slack, argues a Health Affairs blog post.

"It sounds counterintuitive, but carving time to experiment out of employees' schedules" has been shown to increase output, authors Roy Rosin, chief innovation officer for Penn Medicine, Evan S. Fieldston, M.D., attending physician of general pediatrics at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and David A. Asch, M.D., executive director of the Penn Medicine Center for Health Care Innovation, write in Health Affairs.

For instance, Google gave employees 20 percent of their time to explore projects that fell outside of their jobs' primary responsibilities. When the company measured output in 2005, it found that this policy generated half of new product releases. Today, that 20 percent generates more than $10 billion in annual revenue for Google.

The idea of slack creation dates back to the 1920s, the authors write, when an engineer at 3M continued working on a project without authorization and ended up inventing masking tape, which led 3M to institute the "15 percent rule," similar to Google's 20 percent. Slack is even more important in healthcare, the authors write, because healthcare innovation is largely driven by personal passion; when clinicians have the time to pursue projects with personal significance, they are more motivated to work through obstacles and work to the point of generating data that demonstrates the feasibiloity of their projects.

The authors cite a 2008 analysis of how seven management techniques impact productivity; techniques that empower individuals also improved productivity, according to the analysis, whereas efficiency-focused approaches did not.

A July essay for The Atlantic similarly praised the value of creative thinking and experimentation in spurring healthcare innovation. And in May, futurist Ian Morrison told the National Healthcare Innovation Summit that the industry has "hit a wall" and innovation to handle changes in healthcare is more important than ever, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

To learn more:
- read the blog post