5 Imperatives for Addressing Healthcare's Innovation Challenge


In healthcare the term “innovation” traditionally refers to the development of new therapies, drugs, or devices. As efforts to reform the American healthcare system gain momentum, it is clear that innovation must be explored in a broader context.

To help promote this conversation, Harvard Business School (HBS) and Harvard Medical School (HMS) have formed the Forum on Healthcare Innovation. The Forum’s initial events were a conference and survey in November 2012.

Executive Summary:

The Big Idea Is That There Is No Big Idea

If one idea can be said to reflect the spirit of the whole, it is that there is no one “magic bullet” that can heroically resolve our healthcare challenges. Instead, the most intriguing ideas share common themes of collaboration, integration, and distributed knowledge.

The Forum can be best summarized through 5 key imperatives.

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.

Our findings do not provide conclusive answers. They are an invitation to consider the options, contribute to the debate, and join in our collective ambition to direct energies toward the most promising avenues of innovation in healthcare.

Forum on Healthcare Innovation Faculty Co-Chairs

William W. Chin, MD
Bertarelli Distinguished Professor of Translational Medical Science and Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School

Richard G. Hamermesh
MBA Class of 1961 Professor of Management Practice, Harvard Business School

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

Barbara J. McNeil, MD
Ridley Watts Professor of Health Care Policy, Harvard Medical School

Joseph P. Newhouse
John D. MacArthur Professor of Health Policy and Management, Harvard University