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What do you mean, innovation?

one of my favorite movies the Princess Bride, One of the many great quotes is Inigo Montoya, who is dismayed when the evil Vizzini continues to use “the unimaginable” to describe events that were apparently actually happening. “You keep using that word,” Inigo says at the end. “I don’t think it means what you think it means.”

So this is the word “innovation” for most of us – especially in healthcare.

What got me thinking about this is an opinion by Alex Amouyl: Innovation Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Does, Ms. Amouyal is executive director of Solve, an MIT initiative whose mission is to “foster innovation to solve world challenges”. It sees itself as “a marketplace for social impact innovation”.

In her article, Ms. Amouyal notes that traditional definitions of innovation focus on the use of innovation to create wealth. She does not dispute that view, as long as “wealth” includes less traditional “community wealth”, which includes “widely shared economic prosperity, racial equality and ecological stability”. I suspect that innovators like Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk don’t take that approach to innovation.

Ms. Amouyal’s view is: “To me, innovation is about solving problems. And if innovation is about solving problems, what problems are you solving and who is preparing to solve them.” Well, it’s important.” She notes the multiplicity and difficulty of global and community-level problems that we face, and urges: “Most urgently, we must address the problems that affect the most disadvantaged among us.”

For example, in healthcare, with whose help do we try to solve many of our problems, for which population, with whose help? Does innovation increase community wealth, or just a few people’s wealth? Will it improve the health of the most unfit among us?

He is particularly keen on close leadership in solving problems, citing Jackson, Kania, and Montgomery: “Being the closest leader is the ability to learn about or study a group of people and the struggles of overcoming adversity. It’s really about being part of that group or being meaningfully guided by that group’s inputs, ideas, agendas and assets.”

There lies the problem. Whether it’s global warming, poverty, or the poor US healthcare system:

The issue today is that, too often, we are not recognizing and thus not investing in near-term innovators working in under-served communities, which means their innovations will never have the depth and scale needed for systematic change. cannot reach.

Innovation seekers – investors, corporations, foundations, corporations or governments – rely on a top-down or closed approach to finding innovators. It is up to the innovators whether they are part of an existing network in particular geographic areas, going to the right schools, or being introduced through the right person to an investor or a foundation program officer. We need to open doors both literally and figuratively to meet innovators near where they are, take a bottom-up and co-creation approach that allows access to those working with and in the most under-served communities .

I can’t say how well this applies to other major problems, but I’m sure we’ve seen a flood of digital health “innovations” as a problem in health care, especially in the US. As best I can tell, most focus on making things a little easier for middle/upper class people with moderate health problems. Not getting to the root of one of our nation’s biggest health problems, nor is our health care system’s biggest problem. What really close doesn’t open the doors for thousands, perhaps millions, of innovators whose lives are at stake.

For example, if you’re a hospital and frontline nurses aren’t helping lead your innovation efforts, you’re probably focusing on the wrong things. If you’re a digital health company, a pharmaceutical company, or a medical device company, and patients take on a consultant role, admit it – you’re really in it for the money.

Solutions, for example, puts together challenges that “recruit social entrepreneurs who are using technology to solve today’s most pressing problems.” It has supported some 228 solver teams over the years, with one focused on The Care Economy and another focused on equine health systems. Current open challenges include how to measure performance improvement in primary care and on improving quality of life for people with other rare diseases.

Solve Recent Solve in MIT 2022. Two quotes from the summary jumped out at me:

  • Azra Akšamija: “When we work with fragile communities our intentions are always the best, but the best intentions don’t always create the best solutions.”
  • Hannah Halla: “Charity asks: What’s wrong, how can I help? Justice asks: Why is this happening, how can I change it?

Look, I’ve been an advocate of electronic health records for a long time. I am all in favor of more digital health solutions. I am grateful for the kind of drug development progress that led to the discovery and production of COVID-19 vaccines so quickly. I have been a beneficiary of improvements in surgical techniques and equipment. I am fascinated by AI, 3D printing, VR/AR/Metaverse, and robotics in healthcare. All of those, and more, count as “innovation” as we typically define it in healthcare, but I have to ask: are they the best solution for fragile communities? Do they help bring more justice to our health care and our society?

I didn’t feel like that either.

If we’re going to be true innovators in the field of health, we have to start by realizing that we’re spending our $4 trillion foolishly, much of which innovation is going to make those people and organizations even richer. who are already rich. We will focus on the fact that most of our health issues begin with extreme poverty, in which many people lack adequate income, housing, food and education. We would be outraged that those who provide hands-on care, including nurses, nursing home workers and home care aides, are paid so little relative to their vast contributions.

address those kinds of things, face those kinds of challenges, then You can call yourself an innovator. Until then, I have to agree with Ms. Amouyal: Innovation doesn’t have to mean what you think it means.

Kim is a former emarketing executive at a major blues plan, editor of the late and bereaved Tincture.io, and now a regular THCB contributor

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