Four Things Health Systems Can Do Right Now to Support Creativity and Innovation

The word “creativity” is usually associated with fine arts or hobbies, not healthcare. But health systems are actually filled with scientists and caregivers who use creativity to solve problems involving a very complicated organism: the human body. Creative thinking helps us imagine ways in which we can provide better care for our patients and their families, improve our job performance, and envision new business models that can more effectively serve our needs and our patients’ needs.

Healthcare leaders must not only react to present circumstances, but use their imagination: “What will the healthcare experience look like 10 years, 15 years, and 20 years from now?” “How will we reach millennials and new audiences?” “And how will we deploy new digital solutions?”

Historically, when you look at companies that have survived challenging times, most of them doubled down on innovation. They asked themselves: “How do we pivot and create something people really need, both now and in the future?”

Melissa Goodwin, Innovation Lab’s senior vice president for Strategic Engagement & Growth, shares four ways health systems can build a culture that empowers everyone to think creatively.

1. Create an inclusive pathway for ideas.

Creative problem-solving and creative solutions development should be everyone’s job. Every employee, patient, and family member has valuable ideas. We all experience the healthcare system at some time in our lives, so that means we can all think about ways to improve care, access to care, and patient outcomes. Health systems that have established pathways for accepting new ideas, evaluating those ideas, and then providing feedback are well positioned to capitalize on the creative thinking of all employees. But these pathways need to be easily accessible for every employee and everyone who interacts with the system.

At Innovation Lab, we’ve seen everyone from environmental services to administrative assistants, physicians, nurses, and respiratory therapists submit ideas. And we evaluate them all using the same process: “What is the market?” “What is the opportunity?” “How many lives will this impact?”

2. Make creativity and innovation visible.

To inspire real creative thinking, solve real problems. Encourage your employees to share frustrations and them solve for them: These represent big opportunities for innovation.

It’s vital to honor creative thinking with recognition. At some of our health systems, when someone submits an idea, their leaders send them a thank-you note. The message is that, even if we aren’t able to commercialize a specific idea, we want to recognize them. “Hey, you’re doing the right thing. You’re thinking in the right way.”

3. Build in intentional time and space for innovation work.

“Where attention goes, energy flows and results show,” said author T. Harv Eker. What we spend time focusing on will grow and evolve. Thus, if we want a culture of creativity and innovation, leaders must intentionally create time and space for people to think about problems and brainstorm solutions. What does this look like? Here are a few ideas:

  • Add a “problem board” in the break room where team members can post problems they want to solve.
  • Pair the board with a weekly 15- to 30-minute brainstorming session in which teams suggest solutions to those problems.
  • Some organizations have “FedEx Days,” where team members must come up with a new solution overnight.

However you incorporate creative problem-solving into daily work, the key is to do it. Make time for it. Don’t wait for a major catastrophe to start thinking creatively about how to solve sticky problems. Build the infrastructure now and start flexing those muscles so that when it is mission critical, the organization is ready to act.

4. Design solutions for our human needs.

In healthcare, we sometimes view our work through a black-and-white lens of budget and process, but we’re treating humans who, by nature, are emotional creatures. Humans gravitate to places where they’re delighted and comforted. When we’re treating patients, they may be in vulnerable places, emotionally or physically. Embrace delight. Find ways to create experiences that provide some positivity and encouragement.

You may have seen elements of this trend in children’s hospitals, which are starting to incorporate elements of delight and joy into their walls, lighting, and interactive technologies. These things make the process of giving and receiving healthcare less intimidating.

One of our products, the Imagination Wagon, is a patented pediatric transport device that’s actually fun for a child to ride in while also providing a practical solution for managing IV poles and things a parent has to carry. We looked at it from the perspective of the child, from the perspective of the parents, and from the perspective of the health system, and we asked, “How can this be useful, needed, and delightful for all of those parties?”

Remember that adults want their emotional needs met as much as kids do, especially in those moments that are especially serious or challenging for them. Creative solutions that incorporate humor, positivity, and calm can lead to truly transformative experiences for patients.

When a health system is ready to direct the talent and ideas of its employees toward solving bedside problems, we’ve built a proven pathway, process, and commercialization engine they can leverage on Day One. We know how to navigate the gauntlet of commercialization. Maybe even more importantly, we have experience working shoulder to shoulder with innovators—inspiring them, encouraging them, and educating them.


Want to know more about what Innovation Lab can do for you? Email Melissa Goodwin to start the conversation.