CEO: Why hospitals should stop worrying so much about 'innovation'

Copying other's innovations may save time, money, effort

Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Contra Costa Medical Center CEO Anna Roth and Press Ganey Associates CMO Thomas Lee explain how the health care industry could conserve funds, resources, and time by focusing less attention on innovation and more on imitation.

"Health care is infatuated with innovation," Roth and Lee argue. However, "When organizations overemphasize innovation, they can miss out on the power of imitation—copying existing approaches that actually work."

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Half in jest, Roth and Lee propose the formation of an International Institute for Imitation (III) to connect "Chief Imitation Officers" at health care organizations that need outside help to solve their problems. Among other things, III could seek and promote ideas that transfer over from various industries.            

"We want to take the shame out of stealing from others, shake off the conceit of Not Invented Here, and embrace the sincerest form of flattery by learning how to imitate approaches known to work," they write.

Roth and Lee offer some examples of successful imitation in health care.

For instance, the University of Utah Health System created an online transparency program featuring patient comments that led to clinical performance improvements. When it took the feature public in 2013, three years after beginning an internal trial run, Piedmont Health System in Georgia noticed and implemented it—skipping the test phase altogether.

"Reaching outside of [health systems'] traditional boundaries allows them to tap all the innovative approaches without investing in their own research and development," Roth and Lee write.

Learning from systems that outperform others allows conserves funds, resources, and time. "Let's lower risk and investment in the unknown or unproven," they conclude, explaining, "Let's lionize the imitator. It's the faster way to get better" (Roth/Lee, Harvard Business Review, 11/19).

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