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Translating Ideas into Action at the MGH Healthcare Transformation Lab

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From left to right, Dr. Eric Isselbacher, Julia Jackson, Dr. Maulik Majmudar. Photo by Gordon Webster, New England Images.

“Change is inevitable – and it’s happening at a rapid pace,” says Dr. Eric Isselbacher, founder and Director of the Healthcare Transformation Laboratory at theMGH Corrigan Minehan Heart Center. “We need to be not just changing, but leading the change.”

When Dr. Isselbacher says this, he’s recounting the process that lead to the launch of MGH’s Healthcare Transformation Lab (HTL) just one year ago, in April 2014. Turning good ideas into actions, especially in an institutional setting like MGH, can be challenging. Isselbacher learned about driving change in successful organizations while attending a graduate program in health care delivery science at Dartmouth, but on-the-ground change proved to be even more difficult.

“Trying to change from the inside in the usual department structures is not going to succeed. What you have to do is to step outside and create an innovation group outside of regular operations,” Isselbacher says. That’s the model he used to launch HTL – an independent, dedicated innovation group that works with the Heart Center to translate innovative ideas in healthcare delivery into sustainable action.

Collaborative Innovation

Dr. Maulik Majmudar, associate director of the HTL, calls the group a start up within academia. He also believes that true creative work and innovation happen best at the convergence of disciplines, which is why HTL is strongly focused on what Majmudar calls “collaborative innovation.” Their mission is to improve the experience and value of healthcare for both patients and providers, and Majmudar believes that only by actively seeking out partners within MGH and outside of academia can they achieve this goal.

One of HTL’s biggest collaboration events comes in the form of the Ether Dome Challenge, a contest that engages people at every level. The HTL also sponsors the Co-Create Program in partnership with MIT’s Hacking Medicine.

In addition to the concept of collaborative innovation, which is one of the three main focus areas at HTL, the group also focuses on digital health and validation studies. “There are a ton of ideas, especially here at Mass General,” says Julia Jackson, Managing Director of the HTL, noting that the real goal is to bring great ideas to actual patients.

Looking Forward

Why start with heart health issues? Isselbacher explains their approach involves focusing on a specialty, in this case heart problems. Isselbacher and Majmudar are both cardiologists, and heart problems are particularly amenable to devices and monitors. Heart problems are also quantifiable, big-ticket issues, so a modest reduction in something like readmissions can show at the bottom line. And while the HTL is currently a heart center innovation lab, the expectation is that they will soon grow beyond that specific focus.

When he thinks about the big picture of our healthcare system, Majmudar mentions the challenge of balancing the need for extreme efficiency with the risks and failures that innovative work inevitably entails. Innovation by definition is about creativity, taking risks, experimenting, failing and failing fast. But that risk might not be worth taking in healthcare organizations where operational efficiency is critical for the bottom line. The model of an independent lab dedicated to innovation does help with this, Majmudar says.

Challenges in check, the HTL team agrees that this an exciting time for them as they look back on the projects they have implemented in just one year – they have launched and managed projects in each of their three focus areas. Now, they prepare to celebrate their first anniversary by moving into a new space.

Krina Patel

Krina Patel

    Krina Patel is a writer/illustrator and educator committed to building provider-patient relationships. Dr. Patel’s doctoral research on the body and cognition at Harvard University and her experience adopting and promoting technology in education brings her to her current work in the health and technology sector. Follow her on Twitter, @positivelylearn.

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