Szollosi Healthcare Innovation Program (SHIP)

Harvard Business Review

The September, 2010 issue of the Harvard Business Review highlighted SHIP’s work in an article entitled “Kaiser Permanente’s Innovation on the Front Lines”. A large part of this article talks about how Kaiser’s Innovation group helps lead the Innovation Learning Network (ILN) – a consortium of non-profit organizations who learn about and share healthcare innovations.
SHIP has been an active member of the ILN, and the article highlights our “Inflection Navigator” project as an example of the importance of open collaboration between institutions to create “service line innovations” which focus on both increasing quality while also improving the patient experience.
Below is the section which discusses SHIP.

The article is available online at: Harvard Business Review (Sept, 2010)

Care Coordinators
KP’s emphasis has been on designing better means of delivery, which can improve the quality of care much more dramatically and quickly than any whizbang technology. Such reforms can also save money, by off-loading from expensive clinicians duties that lowerpaid staffers can perform. (Kaiser is not without critics who question some of its motives and practices—sometimes alleging that its emphasis on cost control crosses the line into rationed care.)

Lyle Berkowitz is a Chicago primary-care physician who also runs the Szollosi Healthcare Innovation Program, a charitable foundation that belongs to the Innovation Learning Network. Berkowitz has worked with the ILN on a process to help patients who’ve received a frightening diagnosis more easily negotiate the ensuing flurry of necessary activity: follow-up tests, visits to specialists, decision making about treatment and care. The process is called Inflection Navigator, because a diagnosis of cancer or serious cardiac disease, for example, presents the patient with
a profound inflection point.

At such times many patients feel too overwhelmed to ask important questions or undertake important tasks. Inflection Navigator assigns to each patient a care coordinator, who explains, assists, sets up appointments, anticipates questions, and provides answers.
The care coordinator sequences activities to minimize the inconvenience to patients and maximize the value of the time they spend with doctors. For example, a patient’s visit to a specialist might be scheduled only after the necessary tests have been done and the results can guide a recommendation. “It decreases the burden on both the patient and the doctor,” Berkowitz says.

It also bends the cost curve down. Care coordinators don’t have to be highly trained and heavily compensated. They depend on a database of medical protocols reflecting best practices for diagnostic procedures and the latest treatments for various diseases. This frees physicians to spend more time where their expertise makes the greatest difference. The process bends the learning curve, too. If, say, the standard treatment for atrial fibrillation changes, “the cool thing is I don’t have to go and try to educate all my doctors,” Berkowitz says. “Because it can take years to do that.
All I have to do is change the protocol that’s already built into the system.” The physician makes the diagnosis and then hands the patient off to the care coordinator.

Democratizing Health Care
Lyle Berkowitz mans one corner of a small booth on the modest show floor of a conference and expo in Boston. The event is a joint production of the Innovation Learning Network and the Center for Integration of Medicine & Innovative Technology, a nonprofit consortium of Boston-area teaching hospitals and engineering schools. The proceedings might best be described as a festival for health care geeks. Berkowitz is busy explaining Inflection Navigator to interested attendees. The emphasis here is on sharing, not selling. No booth bunnies, blaring music, flashing lights, or branded tchotchkes, just conversation—enough conversation that superior listening skills are needed to hear above the din. The exhibitors have zeal in common. They want to make health care better, smarter, cheaper, and more accessible.

Chris McCarthy hovers and circulates. It’s the last day of the event, and he has the semirelaxed look of someone who has either dodged or dealt with whatever might have gone wrong and is finally surrendering to satisfaction. Sharing real-world evidence of what works—ideas, practices, protocols—exhilarates people like McCarthy and Berkowitz. To them, there’s nothing odd about 16 independent organizations coming together to improve more quickly than they could if they were left to themselves. It simply makes sense to spread improvement as broadly as possible. This is not the vision of health care that emerged in the grinding yet cartoonish debate leading up to the passage of what is now called Obamacare. It was easy then to imagine that the whole system was willfully committed to cruelty, greed, vanity, and ineptitude. Beyond the fray, however, creativity flourishes. McCarthy and others, by democratizing the methods of innovation, are democratizing health care, giving patients and non-physician caregivers a louder voice in designing the future.