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Innovation: Rushing Forward Into the New Healthcare, Pioneers Are Undaunted

November 10, 2015
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What did the leaders at Harper-Hutzel Hospitals/Detroit Medical Center have that was worth celebrating? A special spirit of innovation

I still remember the particularly frigid weather in Detroit, when I drove there in December 2008 to meet a wonderful team of clinicians and IT leaders at Harper-Hutzel Hospitals within Detroit Medical Center, in downtown Detroit. That team, spearheaded by Michael LeRoy, Detroit Medical Center’s CIO, had just been chosen the number-one winning team in the newly revamped Healthcare Informatics Innovator Awards Program, and I was interviewing them for the March 2009 HCI cover story.

This was a particularly important interview for us at HCI, as it was with the 2009 Innovator Awards that we as an editorial team had chosen to reconcept the program to focus on entire teams of leaders within patient care organizations, rather than solely on well-deserving individuals, as had been the case for many years at the publication, as we had come to recognize that everything tha happens

As I wrote in the March 2009 cover story, “When executives at the 2,000-bed Detroit Medical Center (DMC) agreed to spend $31 million on an EMR and roll it out across eight hospitals in 13 months, no one blinked. That's because the health system had in place a culture focused on collaboration, continuous quality improvement, and technology-facilitated innovation. But when the decision to implement closed-loop medication administration came up, a number of thorny issues arose, specifically with regard to its implementation in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Hutzel Women's Hospital. (That facility, together with Harper University Hospital, forms a key anchor within DMC's downtown campus; combined, the two encompass 685 beds.) As is the case at NICUs nationwide, clinicians faced multiple obstacles in implementing barcode-scanning-based medication administration for its smallest patients. Hutzel has neonates who can weigh less than 1 pound, so working with standard-sized barcodes is impossible.”

My task that bitterly cold day in December 2008 was a happy one: to interview the leaders of the team that come up with ingenious solutions to thorny process and practical problems around IT-facilitated meds administration for the neonates in Hutzel Women’s Hospital’s NICU. I interviewed not only CIO LeRoy, but also Valerie Gibson, R.N., the hospital’s vice president of patient care services at the time of the meds administration initiative; Lisa Gulker, R.N., director of clinical transformation at Harper-Hutzel; Kathleen McLaughlin, N.N.P., an advanced practice nurse involved in the project; and Mirjana Lulic-Botica, R.Ph., the neonatal clinical pharmacist involved in the project.

The work of the team, which encompassed a variety of sub-projects, including developing humidity-tolerant patient bands for the babies in the NICU isolettes, and the development of NICU-appropriate order sets and dosaging supports for locally mixed medications, was a model of what team-ness in the service of improved care delivery and patient safety can look like. And it was a delight to speak with all the members of the Harper-Hutzel/DMC team on that chilly December day.

The Harper-Hutzel/DMC team was the first number-one team of innovators in a string of several years of winning teams. Since then, our first-place-winning teams have included Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh (2010), Children’s Hospital and Medical Center of Omaha (2011), the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (2012), NorthShore University Health System in Chicago’s northern suburbs (2013), Catholic Medical Partners, a medical network in Buffalo, N.Y. (2014), and the Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic in Yakima, Washington (2015). All of those teams, as well as of course the teams that have won the second- and third-place awards in our program, have demonstrated vision, purposefulness, strategy, great execution, and of course improvements in outcomes, across a variety of dimensions.

What do all these teams have in common? They are changing how U.S. healthcare is delivered and managed, in ways that are important and replicable by others. And in every case, individual leaders have gone out on a limb and taken personal-professional risk to move their organizations—and their communities—forward.

Seven years’ worth of winning teams in our Innovator Awards Program has only affirmed for me what I know so many people in U.S. healthcare hope to be true—that genuine innovation is not only possible, it is quite doable. At a time when the purchasers and payers of healthcare are demanding a healthcare system that is of higher quality, with better patient outcomes, improved service and patient, family, and community satisfaction; more efficient and effective; more transparent and accountable; and delivered at a lower cost; healthcare providers are faced with unprecedented demands for improved clinical, operational, and financial performance. It is in that spirit that we are proud and pleased to honor our Innovator Awards winning teams every year.

Is your team ready for the recognition you deserve? If so, now is the time to act. Please find the link to the submission form here (please remember: submissions will not be accepted from vendor organizations, only from patient care organizations, health plans, and health information exchanges—thank you!).