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Measuring innovation is not easy for any organization, but it’s especially difficult for leaders in health care. Metrics around clinical and financial success are often intertwined and innovation can be completed through either technological advancements or simple process improvement. It’s hard to directly correlate “innovation” as the cause of organizational progress, although many have tried.  

“When you talk about innovation, it’s not a simple metric like quality improvement. You have to play the infinite game. You have to be in there for the long-term making impact. People who try to measure it probably don’t understand innovation. It’s a cultural change. It’s difficult to measure because it’s complex. It’s not like, ‘X numbers of dollars saved from X number of projects,” says Anthony Chang, MD, pediatric cardiologist and Chief Intelligence and Innovation Officer at CHOC Children’s Orange County.  

Yet despite this vague nature, top health care executives all have their own philosophies and theories on how they measure innovation. Some are willing to throw the word “innovation” aside and others have it as part of their core organizational beliefs.  

Health Evolution spoke to several innovation leaders about how to measure innovation, how they ensure it’s part of the culture, what’s on their innovation competency checklist and more. In part one of a two-part series, we feature responses from these two innovation leaders: 

Sara Vaezy, chief digital strategy officer at Providence, based in Seattle 

Peter Fleischut, MD, senior vice president and chief transformation officer at NewYork-Presbyterian 

Part 2 of this series.

What are some qualitative or quantitative metrics you use to measure innovation?  

Sara Vaezy: We’re not super fond of the word innovation because many times that word is a slush fund for science projects. When I say science, I don’t mean clinical research. I mean experimental things that do not have any specific, measurable ROI associated with them. Innovation becomes this extremely vague term that doesn’t yield much. And then a lot of organizations shut down their “innovation efforts.” It also introduces a lot of vagueness when you use the term innovation. Is it clinical innovation? Business innovation? Product innovation? One of the first things we did was put some parameters around what we’re talking about. 

For Providence, there’s a lot of innovation that occurs across the organization. There’s plenty of clinical innovation, research innovation, etc. [Providence Chief Digital Officer Aaron Martin]’s role, which initially was a leader of strategy and innovation across the organization, has been reframed to be much more focused around digital innovation deliverables. Even that can be a vague term, so we’re more specific around it. Digital is the efforts that we have around digital enablement and product development for our organization that are patient or consumer facing from brand discovery all the way through care delivery. We have metrics around digital transactions, engagement and enabling care delivery through digital means and tools.   

We have specific things we’re on the hook for in Providence Ventures, such as MOIC and return on capital invested. We have invested in 19 companies to date, four of which have exited and 15 that are active. Of those 15, all of them are working with us in an operational capacity throughout the organization. This all factors into how Providence Ventures is evaluated. From a digital development standpoint, our teams get rated on how much we’re driving growth, how many digital transactions we’re enabling, and how we’re promoting digital engagement. Monthly active users and metrics like that. We also have product development activities, which yield new companies and we get graded on how many companies we spin out and the notion of ROI by the equity stake we ultimately have in these companies.  

It’s a complicated way of saying, you can’t just say innovation if you have expectations on return or expectations of meaningful value for the organization, whether that’s clinical or financial. The first step is to define it and put parameters around it. We don’t have a Chief Innovation Officer, we have a Chief Digital Officer, a Chief Clinical Officer and others who own different aspects of innovation.  

Peter FleischutOne of the reasons we changed my role from Chief Innovation Officer to Chief Transformation Officer is we wanted to transform as an organization. So, this meant, for example, measuring standardization across our ten sites, whether it’s a community hospital or a large academic center. We had the same standards, the same pathways, the same protocols across the enterprise.   

When it comes to new care delivery, it was virtual … but it was what is the percentage of our total care being done virtually? What is being done remotely? What are our touch points with the patients remotely? We measure metrics based on operating where we want to be. What percentage of patients are virtual? What percent are in the remote monitoring program? And with that, financial metrics.  

It’s critical we have innovation because we want to make sure the innovation fundamentally causes us to transform. It’s led us to look at operating metrics that we measure to enable that transformation. We look at the whole organization globally and measure our effectiveness on the utilization of telemedicine. The return on telemedicine. Those types of things.  

If you surveyed innovation officers or transformation officers, they wouldn’t jump first to measuring standardization or how many order sets have been standardized. But to me, when we cover four boroughs, 10 sites of care, that sort of thing is critical when it comes to transformation. If you do that step correctly, it enables so much more. It enables you to do virtual care faster.