'Shark Tank'-style contests, community initiatives spark healthcare innovation

The "Shark Tank" model, based on the popular television show that has aspiring entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to potential investors, has also inspired innovation within the healthcare sector. 

Philadelphia's Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson Health System last week opened the Jefferson Accelerator Zone (JAZ), a space intended to break down departmental barriers and encourage collaboration on new ideas, according to the Philadelphia Business Journal. One of the ways it intends to spur innovation is to use a Shark Tank-model to encourage doctors, researchers, students, fellows and nurses to present their ideas.

Several healthcare providers have already adopted the model used by the reality television competition series by having panels review invention ideas from startups, Hospitals & Health Networks reported. Boston Children's Hospital recently hosted an "Innovation Summit" in which a handful of finalists pitched their healthcare ideas to an expert panel.

Brigham and Women's Hospital offered a similar challenge to create mobile apps that would improve inpatient experience and outpatient engagement. One winning app is already available for download, and Twine CEO John Moore, M.D., says Brigham's process helped get it approved in only a month.

"This is all happening because healthcare organizations are really feeling the pressure to get on outcomes and cost improvements quickly," he told H&HN. "They're going to start taking on more and more risk, and they know that if they don't move quickly, they're going to have a hard time."

Last week the American Hospital Association released a report featuring case examples of innovation by individual healthcare leaders. The examples are divided into four categories: Social and Basic Needs, Health Promotion, Access and Coverage and Quality of Life. For example, in the District of Columbia, MedStar Health took advantage of the status of barbershops as community venues within the African-American community to launch the "Hair, Heart and Health" program. The program trains barbers to measure customers' blood pressure and weight to screen for symptoms of hypertension.

And Henry Ford Health System in Detroit's Sew Up the Safety Net for Women and Children program, through a network of local social and medical services, links at-risk women to healthcare resources. Of the 364 pregnant women participating in the program, there have been zero deaths (despite Detroit having one of the nation's highest infant mortality rates) and the program has connected more than 1,000 women and families with resources in the area.

Another way to foster innovation: Turn to chief innovation officers to promote innovation, such as rethinking delivery information technology and making systems more flexible, FierceHealthIT previously reported. They can further create an organization-wide "culture of innovation" by taking steps such as promoting diversity, taking calculated risks and empowering employees.

To learn more:
- here's the Business Journal article
- read the AHA report (.pdf)
- check out the H&HN article