At Intermountain Healthcare, secret sauce is innovation plus empathy

By Jonah Comstock
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When the Church of the Latter Day Saints gifted the 15 hospitals that formed the original Intermountain Health System to the community in 1975, they did it with one mission and one mandate: to create a "model system". Figuring out what that means is the job of everyone at the system, but especially of Todd Dunn, the system's director of innovation.

Dunn will talk more about his innovation model at the Digital and Personal Connected Health forum at the HIMSS annual conference on February 19th and 20th in Orlando. 

[Don't miss out on the premier digital health event at HIMSS17 -- check out our lineup of digital health innovators and be sure to register for the event when you sign up for HIMSS!]

"When you think about being a model system, it’s not a destination, it’s a journey," Dunn told MobiHealthNews. "You have to think not about how good are we, but how good should we be? And so, [for] our leaders and all of our executive leadership, the tone at the top is, they allow us to always think of ways to get better. And with that umbrella of permission, and the DNA of our company, it just makes it a lot easier for us to think of new things and to think of innovative ways, because people are always wanting to do the right thing for anyone who interacts with our system. And unlike any place I’ve ever worked, it just permeates the entire company."

And Dunn has worked in a lot of places. Before coming to Intermountain, he worked at GE Healthcare, McKesson, and Siemens. 

"A couple of things that really motivated me to figure out a better way to innovate in healthcare were what I saw as failures at those places," Dunn said. "It seemed to me like we were doing a great job of getting requirements in conference rooms and on conference calls. But somehow it didn’t seem like we were building software or solutions that delighted people. So that kind of bothered me."

Dunn says the secret is combining empathy with innovation, along with never making a major decision without having input from end users, whether those are patients or clinicians. It sounds simple enough, but lots of innovators fall into a "not me" way of thinking when it comes to empathy in design if it isn't built into the process, Dunn says.

"I think we often get caught into the trap of believing that we know," he said. "Especially for those of us who sit outside of a really complex process. It’s easy for us to simplify what we believe is happening inside the context of care. Even people who want to practice medicine still believe they know the details that are needed to design really well."

As to exactly how to build empathy into the process, that's what Dunn will be talking about at the event next week.

[Join innovators from Cleveland Clinic, Intermountain, Partners Healthcare, Cedars-Sinai and more! Don't miss out on the premier digital health event at HIMSS17 -- check out our lineup of digital health innovators and be sure to register for the event when you sign up for HIMSS!]

But at the bare minimum, Dunn says, healthcare can learn from other industries.

"Proctor and Gamble has a program called 'Living it' where they have lived in people’s homes to do a better job of designing laundry detergent," he told MobiHealthNews. "If it was important enough to do it for laundry detergent or for tax software, it’s just as important -- if not more important -- to do it for patients and clinicians in healthcare."