In December, Fast Layne Solutions CEO Christopher Hughey sat down for an interview with Business Innovation Factory founder and author Saul Kaplan to discuss the state of healthcare delivery in the United States and how innovation must play a role in fixing the complex issues facing it.
According to Kaplan, the current American healthcare delivery system is a product of the industrial revolution and, in its current state, leaves too many people behind. It is a hard-working system with a lot of well-intended actors trying their best to help people. The question is how do we open it up to change, given that it is a self-fulfilling system, a system set up to protect itself and the status quo?
What people fail to understand is that the drive to provide universal healthcare is not a fix, but rather a precursor to the actual fix itself. Getting everyone covered is important, but will do absolutely nothing to address issues like trying to change incentives, innovate, disseminate information to stakeholders more efficiently, educate patients, and motivate people to take responsibility for their health.
Technology is an important component, but it is a double-edged sword: it can help innovate, but it is often used to simply reinforce the weaknesses of the current model. Kaplan cites the example of artificial intelligence (AI): look how many healthcare and pharmaceutical companies are using it not to improve patient outcomes, but simply to make themselves more efficient and profitable.
At the core of the challenge is the very nature of the system itself. We built an Industrial Revolution-based system to help people who are sick, and America is excellent at providing that expertise. But what we are failing to do in the post-Industrial modern age is proactively help people stay well in the first place. It is therefore an antiquated, reactive sick-care system, not a proactive wellbeing system. Ideally, we want both: help people stay well and address their issues once/if they get sick.
A big challenge to changing the system is that so many people start with the financial considerations and work backwards from there. At the Business Innovation Factory, Kaplan’s team starts at the front end: what is the problem we are trying to solve and how can we solve it in a way that delivers value in an economically viable model? That idea is at the heart of Kaplan’s new initiative “Luna You,” a woman-centered maternal wellbeing program that is focused on helping minority women improve pregnancy outcomes by educating and empowering them through outreach, personal coaching, and connecting to the needed medical and social service care. It is centered on the idea that health outcomes are better when patients have increased agency and can take ownership of their health once you give them the tools they need. It kicked off on 1 January of this year in Providence, RI, and will hopefully expand nationally once established.
Why start with one of the toughest problems in the American healthcare system? After all, many articles have cited minority maternal health and pregnancy outcomes as one of the greatest failures of our delivery system and it is a problem fraught with big social issues as well, not least of all the racial component. According to Kaplan, it’s part of his counterintuitive approach to innovation: “Never mind the low-hanging fruit. Give me the absolute hardest problems first. If I can solve those, the rest is easy.”
Does Kaplan expect resistance from the medical community in his attempts to intervene in these challenges? That is actually the beauty of such empowering programs: instead of asking permission of the Powers That Be, the large institutions, they are going straight to women, empowering them, and then going to the providers with them, hand-in-hand in partnership. The goal is to get outcomes on par with the those of the general population, and Kaplan’s team will be measuring their success accordingly.
To close out our interview, I asked Saul what he would change about how healthcare in America innovates if he could wave a magic wand and get those changes done immediately. He focused on three things: 1) Changing mindsets. Too many are at one extreme or the other: they either want to tweak timidly and incrementally or blow up the whole system and start over. So first and foremost we need to define what we mean by innovation and get everyone on the same page. 2) We must get far better about focusing on human-centered design and “shifting our lens” to move away from views that see the world in terms of what’s in the best interests of the existing institutions and towards what is in the best interests of the people those institutions are supposed to be serving (i.e. patients and those seeking to avoid becoming patients by improving their overall wellbeing). 3) We have to get more comfortable with exploration. Our current mindset is that we can analyze our way to solutions, that if we just capture enough data we can predict the future and increase profits. But that is antithetical to exploration and innovation because it leads to safe, risk-averse, incremental improvements at best. We have to be more comfortable with failure, with risk, with true exploration, because otherwise we will stay mired in the status quo.
We’d like to thank Saul for sitting down with us and sharing his unique vision. For more information on how the Business Innovation Factory is helping bring innovation to the healthcare system, please visit the BIF website.