Innovation work is in essence a practice of experimenting, making mistakes, and building on these learnings over time. This incremental approach is widely accepted by entrepreneurs, but how much improvement is “enough” to outweigh the costs of adoption?

This is especially challenging in highly regulated environments like healthcare, where innovations present new scenarios with unknown-unknowns that could put patients in harm's way, and increase liabilities for providers. Despite this regulatory landscape, innovation is booming in healthcare, led by entrepreneurs who are embracing a collaborative model of ideation and invention with patients, providers, and systems stakeholders. 

The journey to adoption is long in healthcare, and we will go farther if we go together.

“If you have a hammer, everything eventually starts to look like a nail. In healthcare, we don’t need more solutions looking for a problem.” shares Dr. Peter Azmi, a scientist-turned-entrepreneur who joins our future’s community to shed light into the black-box of innovation adoption in medicine. Dr. Azmi has been involved in entrepreneurship, innovation and scientific R&D for over 20 years and has seen these challenges first-hand.

Currently, he is the co-founder and CEO of Ostia Sciences Inc., a precision oral health sciences company, and also leads his own innovation strategy and business development agency, i+ Business Development Studios. Dr. Azmi also teaches entrepreneurship and innovation to students around the world, helping the next generation understand stakeholder-centric principles of business design and strategy.

Start with empathy, not statistics 

What really keeps physicians up at night? The only way to know is to ask them, and include them in the innovation journey from day one. While innovators push new tools and gadgets, and new reports are published about the potential - it’s ultimately the physicians who are considering the risks to patients and liabilities to their practice. 

For instance, AI has been argued to be making healthcare more human and has started to be implemented in seven out of 10 hospitals according to an MIT study. In the same study, 78% of business leaders report AI has created workflow improvements, and 75% of medical staffers agree it has enabled better predictions in disease treatment. However, a recent study on the deployment of clinical decision-aids shows that doctors rated advice as lower-quality when it appeared to come from an AI system, especially if they were experts in the field (i.e. radiologists reviewing X-rays vs. physicians). While some skepticism is healthy, we also need to intentionally build physician trust during innovation adoption. How these tools are presented, socialized, and integrated into practice is just as critical as their technical development. 

In our first clip, Peter helps us understand the complexity of a physician’s decision to adopt new technology: understanding benefits, activation costs, considering the risks, keeping patients safe - all while also being an agent of digital transformation. 

We also have to consider larger societal risks for innovating in healthcare. Researchers from the University of Toronto, the Vector Institute, and MIT showed that widely used chest X-ray datasets encode racial, gender, and socioeconomic bias. A growing body of work also suggests that skin cancer-detecting algorithms tend to be less precise when used on Black patients, in part because AI models are trained mostly on images of light-skinned patients.

Physicians can’t afford to further marginalize minority groups that have a history of distrust and mistreatment from health systems. In these situations, is it ethical to onboard a technology that would benefit some groups and further marginalize others? For most clinicians, these unknown side-effects are too great to risk, despite the potential benefits. 

There is no innovation where there is fear

The 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer reported an increase in consumer urgency to address foundational problems in society, and it's no surprise that the largest increase was in the importance of improving our healthcare systems. The same research saw a loss of trust in governments, and public trust in all information sources reached record lows. Consumers may be ready for change, but a process of trust-building will be vital to bring them along. 

Where there is fear and mistrust, innovation will suffer. This journey begins with education that focuses on the values of consumers, rather than explaining complex technologies. 

Before tackling concepts like AI or blockchain technology, how many people really understand the value of their health data? How do we empower patients without overwhelming them with information? Who is ultimately responsible for this work? In the clip below, Peter and Rhea discuss different tech literacy challenges we must consider when bringing new health technologies to patients.

As Peter shares, data literacy isn’t taught in schools, and this education cannot be left to companies alone or we risk repeating the same situations we’ve seen with Facebook or Amazon in the last decade.

Equal access to all is the ultimate goal

“The future is here, it’s just unevenly distributed” - William Gibson

Decentralized approaches to healthcare have gained traction in the face of COVID-19, but can also increase access for communities in remote areas that have been living in “medical deserts” for years. These areas are more than 60 minutes from an acute-care facility and make caring for chronic conditions and routine check-ups nearly impossible. In our final clip, Peter shares his team’s vision for at-home-clinics that leverage relatively low-tech innovations like heart-rate monitors and biometric sensors to bring healthcare to the people that need it most.

As Peter’s example highlights, an innovation’s impact isn’t about a complex technology, but meeting a need for patients while considering the experience of providers, the shortfalls of current systems, and leveraging untapped resources and unlikely allies. 

Innovation isn’t a single-player game, all the gears need to work together from ideation to implementation - we need to co-create solutions together.

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