Sparking and sustaining Innovation is a much-sought-after goal for healthcare systems today. Some organizations have set up specialized innovation centers whose goal is to commercialize technologies developed internally by staff. Others are fostering innovation by becoming incubators and early-stage investors.
Thomas Jefferson University (TJU) in Philadelphia PA is taking multiple approaches to innovation. They created the Jefferson Accelerator Zone (JAZ) where they hold Health Hackathons, host in-person keynotes and have meeting space for local innovators. TJU also created an internal innovation team – the Digital Innovation and Consumer Experience (DICE) Group – a hidden gem.
I had the chance recently to sit down with Neil Gomes @neilgomes – Chief Digital Officer and Senior VP for Technology Innovation and Consumer Experience at TJU and Jefferson Health, who leads the DICE team – to talk about their unique approach to healthcare innovation.
How is DICE different than other healthcare innovation centers that we read about in articles?
We are not an innovation center as people have come to know them. The DICE Group isn’t focused only on commercializing technologies that have been developed by physicians or staff. DICE is an internal group that’s focused on designing and developing solutions to problems faced by the institution, from both a healthcare and educational perspective. Often our solutions incorporate a new technology innovation – but just as often we end up implementing an innovative process without replacing the existing technology. DICE is more like a team of internal catalysts. We enable the design and development of consumer-focused, value-driven, digital-ready solutions. Our goal is to build an efficient, agile, and future-focused organization that delivers value and quality to patients, students, employees, donors, and the community.
How do you find problems to work on?
Our team spends a lot of time out in the field with front-line staff. Not only do we listen to their ideas but we also observe how things are working or not working as the case may be. Through this first-hand interaction with our stakeholders and consumers (aka end-users), we develop focused projects and strategic initiatives.
What are some of the projects you have worked on?
We work on varied projects, some extremely complex such as enabling the implementation of a new Electronic Health Record (EHR) along with other project teams and others that could be as simple as moving equipment to a more efficient location.
On one such simpler (but impactful) project, we enhanced patient experience while at the same time reduced stress on staff – all by moving a label printer from one side of the room to the other. This project started off as a request to reduce delays in the Emergency Room (ER). Through direct observation, we discovered several improvement opportunities. One of the delays we addressed was in the processing of urine samples from patients. Instead of jumping in with a new technology, we took the time to really dig into the problem and just by moving a label printer, we solved it.
On another project, we helped improve our US News & World Report (USNWR) survey scores by assisting our own and referring physicians with setting up their Doximity account. The USNWR annual ranking of Best Hospitals is based on a survey that is distributed online exclusively via Doximity. What we found, however, is that many of the physicians that refer their patients to Jefferson Health and our own physicians did not have their Doximity accounts set up. If a physician is making a referral then they must believe we are a good facility…but without an active Doximity account they wouldn’t be able to participate in the survey. So we created a process along with some technology to help them set up their account when they made a referral. We ended up capturing a lot of that positive sentiment on the USNWR survey and that helped us get to our current ranking of the 16th best hospital in the nation.
We have also done a lot of work with our EHRs (EPIC and several others) as well as designed and developed our own digital apps such as: myJeffHealth, myBaby@Jeff, JeffDocs and Strength Through Insight. While several of our apps are directed at patients and students, we also develop apps and applications for our employees to enable efficiency, data collection, reduce process latency, enhance business processes, and build future-focused competitive advantage. While developing these solutions, we work in partnership with internal and external stakeholders and even with industry partners such as Google, Apple, Adobe, IBM, ServiceNow, EPIC, Harman Kardon, AllScripts, etc. who co-innovate with us.
What is the DICE secret sauce?
If I had to pick one thing that makes us unique it’d be our approach to innovation. We don’t go into situations with a “we must build something” mindset. We remain open to the possibility that a workflow change or additional training may be the best solution to the problem. Our team really takes an ethnographic look at the situation. Nothing is assumed. We give ourselves the time to really dig deep into whether the proposed solution will really achieve the desired outcome and whether it is even aligned with the problem.
We’ve worked hard at building close working relationships with operational leaders and our consumers. We have taken the time to really understand their world and we don’t just come in and try to impose our ideas on them. We build things together with our employees, partners, and consumers. That’s our secret sauce.
Being consumer-centric isn’t ground-breaking. The retail, hospitality, travel, and banking industries have been doing this for years. We have just started to bring consumer-centric thinking into healthcare. For the DICE Group, focusing on the consumer is the most organic and natural way we approach problems and devise solutions.
Many organizations have tried to create internal innovation teams, why has DICE been so successful?
Being close to our end-users has been a cornerstone of our success, but there are few other key things that we do at DICE that we think contribute to our success. One of the core principles we live and breathe every day is human-centered design. This is something that is ignored or overlooked by many in healthcare today – and some HealthIT vendors are especially bad at this. When you subscribe to a human-centered design approach, you realize that building and implementing the technology is only part of the solution. You also have to help end-users incorporate that technology into their daily routines. You have to help them through the disruption and help them bridge the knowledge gap. You can’t just drop in the technology and move onto the next project. Without proper follow-up people will revert back to past patterns – which means the organization will not see any improvement.
That’s another key to our success. We are no longer on the see-problem-solve-problem hamster wheel. In the first few years we “followed the problems” and we racked up early wins. These quick wins helped us build trust, credibility, and most importantly, internal momentum. However, you can’t succeed in healthcare by just solving one problem after another. Healthcare will not be fixed if everyone is just focused on organic point solutions. We need to look above the day-to-day and build solutions that push us in a particular direction. Basically we need to focus on larger, bold, and strategic goals and then creatively innovate towards them.
For example, rather than just looking at streamlining the ER at our Jefferson-Abington hospital, we set ourselves a goal that we would optimally utilize our ER to the extent that we could triage a patient to a room and team in the ER even while they were on the ambulance to the ER. It seemed impossible when we started, but as we worked with our stakeholders and end-users we eventually achieved this goal through a combination of technology and process improvements.
What’s next for DICE?
Now that we are deeply integrated in the organization, we see ourselves getting even more closely involved with the organization’s strategy. With the support of our President and CEO, Dr. Steve Klasko, our staff, board, and co-innovating industry partners, we continue to move from just solving the problems of today to helping TJU solve the problems of tomorrow, develop competitive advantage and value, and deliver closed-loop consumer experiences digitally and in the physical world that engage, enchant, and improve lives.
For more insight into DICE and to see what projects they are working on, follow them on Twitter @DICEGRP