‘Dragons’ Den’ program links innovation with improved patient care

Dragons’ Den’-style granting program at St. Joseph’s Health Care London yields bumper crop of innovative ideas, each funded  up to $10,000, to improve quality care for patients. Added bonus?  Each winning idea bolsters front-line morale.

St. Joseph’s Health Care London has spearheaded a new kind of granting initiative loosely modeled after ‘Dragons’ Den’ ― the CBC program where entrepreneurs pitch their business ideas to secure financial backing from a somewhat ruthless panel of venture capitalists. This initiative has led to an impressive batch of innovative ideas, originating from front-line staff, to improve the hospital’s quality of care. To date, seventeen projects, each funded up to a maximum of $10,000, have been supported.

The idea germinated in the fall of 2010 when St. Joseph’s President and CEO Dr. Gillian Kernaghan first came on board. “I read a story about a front-line Registered Practical Nurse who had an idea to save supplies that were otherwise being wasted if patients left the hospital early,” she says. “Our front-line people are our greatest assets. So, how do we get their ideas all the way through to implementation and evaluation?” she asks.


The next year, Kernaghan did just that. She established the President’s Grants for Innovation, open to all front-line and professional staff. Her goal was to make it nimble and accessible to all, to drive the rapid-cycle improvement approach, which identifies, implements and measures changes made to perfect a process or a system. “There was a question, a methodology and an evaluation. If all three succeeded, then we were probably taking enough risks,” she says.

This kinder, gentler version of ‘Dragons’ Den’ is a well-oiled machine: Twice a year, there’s an open invitation to present ideas to a three-person panel that awards one-time funding to successful submissions. The application is a mere two pages, and the contestants have 15 minutes to pitch their ideas.

Sixteen Ideas Get Stamp of Approval

To date, 16 ideas have been awarded funding. The ‘patient identifier,’ for example, is a confidential patient tracking tool set in waiting areas so family members can follow their loved ones’ progress (see photograph below). It monitors the patients’ changing locations through the in-hospital care journey.

The tool is also a boon to staff, and the results have been stunning: Before the patient identifier was implemented, the hospital unit received over 200 calls from staff in other departments to identify patient arrival, patient readiness and location between staff and departments. With staff now able to view the patients’ whereabouts in the system, these calls have been reduced to just over 60. Overall, the innovation has meant enhanced efficiency in the unit, less family anxiety and improved patient, family and staff satisfaction.


Another project is seeing far-reaching results at the Steele Street Treatment and Rehabilitation Residence. Here, technology―such as, the Internet, cell phones, laptops and iPods―is integrated into the residents’ recovery plans. “It teaches those living with serious mental illness how to create increased capacity to cope through technology,” Kernaghan explains.

She recounts the story of one resident, formerly estranged from his family, who now reconnects via Skype. “The patients are so convinced of the value of this technology that one decided to quit smoking and save all of his surplus money for a tablet,” she adds.

More than anything, these winning projects underscore the direct link between innovation and improved patient care.
Builds a Culture of Value for Front-Line Workers

Beyond the innovations themselves, there are additional benefits to the ‘Dragons’ Den’ approach:

  • It eliminates red tape. “Once an idea is approved, it’s approved,” says Kernaghan.
  • It builds a culture of enquiry so hospital staff feels safe about asking: How can we do things better? Could we improve the outcomes for patients?
  • It builds a culture of value for the front-line workers.

The last point speaks to staff morale. “Staff members say they’ve never had this opportunity before, and it was the most fun they’ve had on the job,” says Kernaghan. “And from our perspective, we’re very impressed with their well-prepared ideas,” she adds.


“Most of our clinicians at the front line… their heart is in improving patient care. They see opportunities, but may not know how to move them forward. The ‘Dragons’ Den’ is just one avenue; it’s about having the ideas of the front line valued enough to put some money behind them,” Kernaghan says.

CAHO Hospitals Play Important Role

Other CAHO hospitals have launched similar efforts, such as the Venture Sinai program at Mount Sinai Hospital’s Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute (http://bit.ly/1cPR348) where scientists pitch their ideas to a group of donors.

CAHO hospitals have a very important role in research from discovery to bedside, Kernaghan believes. “The ‘Dragons’ Den,’ set in a CAHO hospital, is about making sure that innovation has an evaluation component, so that it informs the system as to whether it has value for the patients, value for the dollar, value for outcomes, value for all.”

For more information on the President’s Grants for Innovation, see St. Joseph’s Annual Report: http://bit.ly/16ebMtj.