Welcome to the Forum on Healthcare Innovation

Welcome to the Forum on Healthcare Innovation. Over the coming months, this blog will provide commentary from Harvard Business School (HBS) and Harvard Medical School (HMS) faculty, as well as other experts, related to issues central to innovation and value improvement in the healthcare industry.

Before we get started, I think it is worth understanding how this blog, website, and overall initiative became a reality. Roughly two years ago, HBS Dean Nitin Nohria and HMS Dean Jeffrey Flier approached a small group of faculty at the two schools with a broad challenge: consider what Harvard University’s business and medical schools might be able to do together to stimulate discussion and research about innovation across all sectors of the healthcare industry. As part of the five-member faculty steering committee, I was filled with a mix of optimism about the possibilities and pessimism about the realities. The faculty of each school already had a great deal of insight to offer about innovation in numerous sectors; surely, combining both faculties would create something even greater than the sum of its parts. Yet, I also knew that coordinating activities across large faculties composed of numerous scholarly agendas could lead to a lack of focus and, ultimately, a loss of impact.

As the deliberations of the faculty steering committee proceeded, however, we realized that the work being conducted at both schools hinged on three common interests: (1) an understanding of the need to improve “value”—the quality of outcomes achieved per dollar spent—across the industry; (2) an appreciation of the need for academic researchers to engage with and learn from senior managers and practitioners; and (3) a realization that any meaningful solution to the challenges facing the healthcare industry would require input from all of its sectors. Having identified this shared set of interests, the faculty steering committee decided to launch the Forum on Healthcare Innovation with a conference, which took place on the HBS campus in November 2012 and brought together roughly 150 senior leaders from across the healthcare industry. In addition, the Forum launched the HBS/HMS Survey of Executive Sentiment in Healthcare, a companion survey sent to all conference invitees.

The recently released report summarizing the conference and survey—5 Imperatives for Addressing Healthcare’s Innovation Challenge—categorizes the findings of both activities in a series of five imperatives for driving value-improving innovation in healthcare. These are:

1 Making value the central objective
  In isolation, efforts to either reduce costs or improve outcomes are insufficient; we need to do both through care coordination and shared information.
2 Promoting novel approaches to process improvement
  Instead of largely focusing on product innovation, we also must create an environment that encourages process improvement and acknowledges that “failure” represents an important component of experimentation and learning.
3 Making consumerism really work
  Today, consumerism remains a strong idea with weak means of execution. We will achieve greater success when providers organize efforts around patient needs and when patients become more active agents in managing their own health.
4 Decentralizing approaches to problem solving
  We should facilitate the movement of care delivery and healthcare innovation from centralized centers of expertise out to the periphery, where more providers, innovators, and patients can engage in collaborative improvement efforts.
5 Integrating new approaches into established organizations
  Our future must build on past successes. Existing healthcare institutions must be reinforced with efforts to integrate new knowledge into established organizations and the communities they serve.

In future posts, we will be digging into specific issues related to each of these five imperatives. For now we ask, “What do you see as the most critical step that the American healthcare industry must take to catalyze value-improving innovation?”

Robert S. Huckman
Albert J. Weatherhead III Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School