Monday, 27 April 2009

Innovation may be a barrier to improving healthcare

I know I am on a sensitive topic here. However, the angle I'd like to mention is one that concerns me. I worry it might be a case of the emperor's new clothes. So just in case, I'd like to strip the outer layer of clothing off something that we take for granted and assume is "a good thing". Innovation.

It was announced this week that the NHS in England will have a prize fund of £20 million pounds to go to individuals, teams or organisations who come up with innovations that make a substantial improvement to services. So what I am wondering, is whether this is helpful, or in fact whether prizes and the ongoing emphasis on innovation is helping deliver long term, sustainable, effective and efficient improvements in the delivery of healthcare?

Disconfirming question #1: Why develop more innovation when the current good ideas, innovations etc are used by so few? I wonder what the impact would be if £20 million pounds was up for grabs if you could demonstrate you have implemented an existing evidenced good practice? Do we need more activity on research and new stuff when we have lists and lists of practices that can be of benefit if actually implemented? If an innovation comes up with an idea to get evidence into practice across whole systems and large groups of people, without them really noticing it, then yes, I am behind it. But I am not behind single, one off innovations which are so off the wall that the normal healthcare population can't conceive of ever implementing them.

Disconfirming question #2: Why emphasise innovation and not research? Though a part of me is frightened that any more research will go over old ground - so maybe that is why an innovation focus may be better?

Disconfirming question #3: Why focus on starting something new when stopping something that doesn't work might have more of an impact. The BMJ published in 2004 a list of "bad ideas" or practises in general use which are no longer considered "good practice". These sorts of practices continue to mean large variations in care. So if the innovation rewarded is one which erasing the use of "bad ideas" then I'm all for it.

Disconfirming question #4: Why focus energy on creating new ideas when the same energy could be focused on activity around implementing known and evidenced good ideas. Before I turn entirely into a "grumpy old woman" I do see that innovation and creativity is good. However, as a taxpayer in our system I want to see action on what we know already can work. I suspect tough times like a recession will enable the natural innovators to do their stuff - and they will do this regardless of prizes or focus. It's the greater norm population that doesn't regularly do innovation that bothers me; how can we get action underway there?

Disconfirming question #5: What is innovation anyway? This could leave to a philosophical debate. It could be that anyone implementing an existing known-elsewhere practice will feel it is like an innovation when they implement it in their own context. I suspect this is not what the prize organisers have in mind.

Yes, I do understand innovation and the need for it. My feeling is the innovating population will innovate anyway - that's their nature. I want support, profile and focus on getting existing known practice into place and in stopping known "bad ideas". We could start with hand washing - or someone could come up with an innovative something that means hand washing is an irrelevant activity in the drive to reduce hospital acquired infections.

1 comment:

Mike said...

I agree that we know what to do in healthcare. The harder thing is actually doing it. I think the biggest innovation in the future will not be ONE thing, but combinations of things - that together substantially increase service. Think of a place that had technically perfect care, perfect access to visits or phone or on-line advice or group visits delivered by people who truly were warm, caring, and enjoyed their job! - MLD