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When administration meets innovation

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Historically, community hospitals have not always been viewed as the most innovative.  Add to that, the fact that has not always risen to the top of priorities for investment when hospitals face restrictive budgets and rising patient volumes.This is a particular challenge because hospitals may lack the necessary resources to fund the infrastructure needed to cultivate an environment of innovation.

Innovation isn’t just a buzz word any more. By necessity, it has become a way of life for hospitals, for healthcare and for everyone in the service and caring business. The dictionary defines innovation as “…the action or process of innovating or the introduction of new things or methods that create value or make things better.” So in our ever changing world of healthcare, it has become a necessary part of our evolution.

As part of our strategic plan, we identified innovation as a priority and as an imperative for future success. We determined that innovation must be purposeful, meet a need and that any innovation we embrace must solve a problem and must be in alignment with our goal of providing safe, high quality care.


As a large community hospital providing care to one of the fastest growing communities in Canada, Markham Stouffville Hospital is located in what is considered to be the technology capital of the country – Markham, Ontario.

Innovation provides the perfect opportunity for us to blend technology with patient care, outcomes and efficiency.

Providing excellent patient care in an environment characterized by increasing expectations with fixed resources is not new to healthcare. What is new is bringing innovation to the table as a way of doing business and embedding it in everything we do. The result has meant a significant culture change for healthcare providers and leaders. In the new innovation-based world, there must be a tolerance for mistakes and failures and a higher tolerance for risk.  As a leader, I will continue to support and encourage staff and our Board of Directors to embrace innovation and to also embrace failure as a possible part of our journey. This is not easy for large, bureaucratic organizations, particularly hospitals, where we are always working to reduce risk and minimize error.  So in many ways, the risk taking that is necessary for innovation is counter to the healthcare culture. We often talk about doing more with less but the problem is that if we cannot find a way to do things differently, then we are simply doing less with less. Innovation can come from adversity and necessity but it can also arise incrementally over time, as with the evolution of healthcare practices.  Regardless, it must be fostered, developed, and nurtured.

Innovation, by its nature, needs to be nimble and quick and in many cases, not bound by the bureaucracy that can be present in large organizations. This can be difficult because it is that machine that can help us to minimize variation and reduce risk.  The challenge has been to develop a process and framework that encourages innovation but that also includes enough checks and balances to make sure that precious time and resources are being used effectively. It is also important to put measurements and targets in place to gauge the success of various innovations.

In addition, we must ensure that any potential innovations align with our strategy and that we have the capacity to test concepts and ideas. Great ideas can often begin and end on paper. We want to make sure that our process evaluates the resources required prior to moving forward and that we do not waste time working up great ideas that do not support key priorities or that are  not feasible.  This is an ongoing piece of work that requires diligence and rigor.

What we are learning at Markham Stouffville is that our innovations must be practical for our different audiences: patients, physicians, or staff for example. For this, we created an intentional structure to support our efforts – a virtual ‘Office of Innovation’.  We knew that we needed internal champions to make this successful so we named an administrative champion – one of our Executive Vice Presidents as well as a Medical Chief of Innovation to help support our efforts. The administrative and physician leads are working closely with their respective teams as well with the leadership team to make the numerous and necessary internal and external connections.  We are also engaging our internal and external stakeholders in ‘Design Thinking’ methodology to co-design new processes, models of care, and services and then spreading the innovative learning to other settings. We have learned over time to look beyond the healthcare sector as innovations in other industries can be translated into opportunities for healthcare.

We are also eager to learn from others and are proud to be a founding member of an innovation collaborative with five other community hospitals. The Joint Centres for Transformative Healthcare Innovation came together as a way to share our collective resources and work together to bring innovation to patients in communities across the GTA. The group has created an annual event – InnovationEx to showcase innovative projects from the partner hospitals. This collaborative creates an excellent opportunity to share new innovations, trial them and spread them quickly.  A great example is an initiative led by focused on reducing C-section rates. This initiative was showcased at our first InnovationEx two years ago and has spread to most of our partner hospitals. The healthcare system benefits when this type of information is shared, and ultimately patients and their families benefit when we encourage new and different ways of doing things.


We also look outside the Joint Centres to organizations that may help advance our innovation agenda. We continue to connect with our neighbouring technology companies to share our priorities, and learn how we can support an entrepreneurial and academic environment that is open to trialing and developing technologies that benefit health and the healthcare system.

Healthcare is often considered an industry that moves in inches not miles – especially when it comes to making and implementing changes. But when we look at innovation, small incremental change is not always enough to deal with the challenges we face today and into the future. Disruptive innovation that challenges the way we think, work, and deliver care is needed to meet the needs of our patients and our community, as well as the broader healthcare system which demands more integration and coordination.

As a sector, we have no choice but to embrace innovation. For many of us, that can mean moving outside of our comfort zone and accepting the risk of failure that can be associated with innovation. Without risk, there often isn’t great reward.  And in healthcare, we need to get comfortable with taking calculated risks. Our patients and their families are depending on it.

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