Building a culture of innovation for better patient health

It is no secret that COVID-19 has accelerated the digital transformation in almost every sector, including healthcare. At Amazon Web Services (AWS), we’ve seen our healthcare clients use technology to accelerate medical research, improve patient care, advance precision medicine, speed up the market for therapeutic agents and more.

How can the industry capture this momentum to create lasting transformation when we work for a healthy balance around the world? As much as health managers are reluctant to disrupt conventional health care models, the balance between risk and the need for innovation is challenging in the sector because many decisions have life and death consequences. This balance has created a basic cultural norm that is very risk-averse and often unable to experiment.

I often hear from C-Suite executives the question, “How does AWS innovate and how can I build a similar culture of innovation in my organization?” Many of our clients usually ask us to share the lessons we learned when we grew up. For organizations looking to foster a culture of innovation, here are three best practices to keep in mind.

  1. “Work in reverse order” from your client

At AWS we start with a deep deepening to understand customers and “work back” from their problems. It’s not just about being close to customers, but also about understanding their situation, goals and prospects so we can invent on their behalf. This process ensures that we don’t invent in isolation, and helps keep customer needs at the center of everything we do.

Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York, recently applied this approach to meet the needs of patients at the Brooklyn Health Center, which provides health care management services to critically ill patients. The system wanted to actively reach out to members who were particularly vulnerable during COVID-19 due to chronic illness, social determinants of health, and socioeconomic status. For active and easy interaction, the system used AWS to create a chatbot that allowed to reach high-risk patients. They chose SMS-based chatbots because of the simplicity and accessibility of text messaging as a common form of communication for patients. The system has sent Wellness Registration text messages in English and Spanish to more than 5,000 New Yorkers at risk, offering support for medical and social services. 87% of respondents identified the need for food, unemployment or housing. The campaign helped identify critical issues and allowed Maimonides to mobilize support services.

  1. Know what to risk and where to go

This is easier said than done in healthcare. Suppliers adhere to the principle: “Do no harm first.” The tests are monitored. The coefficients are calculated. Security is paramount.

So how do you decide if to move fast and take risks? At AWS, we use a design called “single-sided and double-sided doors” to evaluate solutions. In particular, the “one-way door” has significant and irreversible consequences – for example, the construction of a data center. On the contrary, most solutions are “two-way doors” – they have limited and reversible consequences – such as experimenting with a new feature in an app. When we see double-sided doors – and have evidence that this is a good idea – we go through them. If this fails, we have the opportunity to apply the acquired skills in new experiments.

Some of the most innovative health organizations in our country use this design to allow differentiated decision making. One example is Houston Methodist Hospital. Adhering to the “fast to success” and “fast to failure” philosophies, their Innovation Center is experimenting with pilots and beta tests until they find the right technology. For example, the system recently began pilot implementation of voice technologies in operating rooms. The solution will allow surgeons and support staff to interact with the digital voice assistant before, during and after operations. It can request data from a patient’s EHR, allow clinicians to start and stop verbal timers, and allow staff to complete oral safety checklists. Such use of voice technology in the operating room has never been before, so the Houston Methodist inherently risked launching the project. However, by testing the technology before full-scale deployment, the Houston Methodist turned that solution into two-way access.

  1. Get organized for speed, agility and innovation

At AWS, we encourage teams to experiment frequently to invent on behalf of customers. Where possible, we also strive to create “two pizza teams” – teams whose size does not exceed what you can feed two pizzas. Having smaller teams minimizes the need for communication, reduces time spent in meetings, speeds up the decision-making process, ensures that the team has ownership and autonomy, and allows each team to focus on one area. These small teams also need opportunities for experimentation.

One example of a health care system that successfully uses the “two pizza” approach is the health care network Froedtert & The Medical College of Wisconsin (F & MCW). F&MW has embraced an engineering culture to develop its digital assistance experience, and has contributed to a flexible team topology. Each team is built around a value creation stream and has no more than six members. These teams control the entire spectrum of the experiment from start to finish. For example, when the CDC recommended that all employees be inspected daily when entering facilities, a team of three quickly began to develop a digital experience that allowed them to self-test on COVID-19, show a passport, receive alerts. in case of risk of COVID-19 infection schedule testing and offer free video visits. The team deployed the prototype in ten days and officially launched it in 20 days. Since then, more than 20,000 workers have benefited from the service and more than 12,000 views are conducted daily.

The healthcare industry is at a crucial juncture when it has the opportunity to accelerate innovation using the lessons learned over the past two years. We’ve seen tremendous potential in cloud computing power to drive innovation, unlock data, and develop personalized care strategies – all while working safely. At AWS we are inspired by the work that our clients do every day to take care of us. And we look forward to the opportunity to continue to help healthcare organizations use the cloud to provide greater access, accessibility, and personalized medicine to patients around the world.


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