As a healthcare CIO, you want to be able to develop a culture of innovation; the hardest part is finding the champions and giving them the space to shine. Encounters with real innovators always provoke thought. I remember one such event, I was walking down the hall and I peeked into one of the offices to see one of my favorite people in the world, Mostafa Khairzada. I love Mostafa because he is one of those people that, when I talk to him, I usually walk away with new thinking and today was no exception. This was the day that Mostafa was going to teach me the value of innovating from the consumers’ perspective. We’ve all read about how Amazon and Zappos put the customer first to create amazing experiences, but what is the best way to get the consumers perspective in healthcare? Mostafa’s answer to me that day was, “go back to bed.”
Live their experience
I started with a softball, “Mostafa, what are you up to these days?” You see, I gave Mostafa a lot of flexibility in his role because his team consistently delivered great results and he had a passion for healthcare innovation. Innovation takes time, courage, and a little resource, and that is what I tried to give him. His response was a little disheartening as a manager, “Yesterday, I spent the entire day in one of our patient rooms in a bed.” I’m sure I did a double take. Seriously? Surely, he didn’t mean the entire day. I was wrong. Not only did he spend the entire day in bed but into the evening as well. My first thought was, ‘you owe the company one day’s salary, my friend.’
This kind of exercise would have been fruitless but it was driven by purpose. Mostafa had several conversations with nurses and patients about how hard it was to get rest in the hospital room. Sleep, it turns out, is pretty important in the whole healing process and yet we’ve created one of the harder places to actually get sleep. His purpose was to sit there with his notebook and document the experience. This, of course, was to augment the interviews he had already conducted. His first observation was that it was loud in the patient rooms; machines were buzzing and beeping all the time, there was movement in the hall, and most of the time the door was open. From time to time, the clinician or another care provider would come in and wake the patient who had fallen asleep. He generated about 20 observations and 10 projects out of this eight-hour experience that he wanted to discuss with the clinicians.
Many consumer experiences
This wasn’t the only experiment that Mostafa did, he once spoke with a patient that was coming back to the hospital for some tests. He asked the patient if he could meet him in the parking lot and walk through his day with him. The man was more than happy to have a companion for the day. Mostafa learned that getting from the car to the appointment location was confusing, that the man carried a bunch of papers — a sign that his hospital had work to do on its paperless initiative, and several other insights. He was also invited to watch a surgery at one point where he observed the challenge of navigating the computer interface for a surgeon. He soon started to work on using a Microsoft Kinect in the surgery center.
Finding healthcare innovation
Here are a couple of insights that I’ve learned about healthcare innovation from Mostafa.
- It’s hard to innovate the care experience from outside of healthcare
- The best people to innovate are curious, relational techies with empathy
- Every organization has a Mostafa, you just need to find them and give them the right opportunity to thrive
Let me elaborate on these points: Healthcare startups have got to find a system as an innovation partner, healthcare is too complex to try to do it from a distance. Many have tried, many have failed. Mostafa was always inviting in partners to create pilots; He would build relationships with clinicians, specialists, and vendors and bring them all together to solve the gnarly problems. Mostafa is what I call a curious, relational techie with empathy. When you find someone like this, you have to free them up to dream. Don’t pull them out of operations, just give them some time to dream. My father retired from 3M, one of the most innovative companies in the world. They were one of the originals in this concept of giving your dreamers room to grow. We have many of their innovations today because these people were allowed to experiment and fail, and eventually succeed. Learn from the best.