Innovation Made Simple

“I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes

If you merely go for quick, simple answers you may be thought of as a simpleton or at least naive.  What I am talking about here takes things to a level well beyond that.  Those who can slow down the world, think through all the chaos and come up with solutions that put order in everything are indeed very valuable and in fact pretty rare.  Think of those in your life who have been able to do this type of thinking.

Change is all around us in healthcare.  Take the time to push back from your everyday work and notice what is happening.  Recognize that this is both exciting and confusing at the same time.  If you want just one place to look at to see this change in action, look at the CMS innovation website.  It is incredible how much is being done.  Look at all the demonstration projects.  Dig in to what they are doing around ACOs and boosting up primary care coverage.  Laws and regulations are being changed and funding is being provided to jumpstart efforts to improve the system and eliminate waste.

Forget the politics and notice how much sense many of these ideas make.  Having electronic medical records that prevent mistakes and duplicative efforts, having networks of providers that actually communicate with each other, expanding access and primary care providers and preventative care all seem to make incredible sense.  What is perhaps the most exciting aspect of this reform is the fact that even commercial insurers are implementing ACO principles within their own systems.

Last weekend, there was an interesting opinion piece in the New York Times written by Ezekiel Emanuel, the oncologist, policy maker, ethicist and brother of Rahm, that discusses the innovation debate around healthcare reform.  He points out two very important points.  First, all innovation is not necessarily good.  New programs, devices, and even drugs must prove, in controlled settings, to work and to help eliminate costs.  Secondly, all innovation does not need to be complex and complicated.  Some of the biggest wins will come from checklists and elimination of things that don’t work.  Simplicity will be critical if we are to put order back in the system.

I would argue that so much of what we do in the pharmaceutical world is provide simple solutions to complex problems.  Statins are used to prevent open heart bypass surgery.  Diabetes drugs allow those with a significant metabolic disorder to live normal lives.  The same can be said for epilepsy drugs that allow 70% of people with epilepsy to live without fear of the next seizure.  Simple phone calls or texts remind people to continue to refill their prescriptions.  The list could go on and on, but just note that so much of what we provide are easy ways to prevent monster problems.

The most critical challenge for our industry today is to figure out how to stay ahead or at least abreast with the changes in healthcare.  First and foremost, we have to embrace the fact that reform is going to happen and in fact we are in the middle of it.  We need to make sure everyone, not just a few, in the organization is totally trained and understands what is happening and the potential impact it has on the business.  There should be a substantial section added to every business plan that discusses brand opportunities based on the reform.

I can’t help compare what seems to be happening in the pharmaceutical world to what happened a few decades ago when managed care was starting.  Most companies had a small select group set up to deal with the managed care customers, while everyone else just hoped they would go away.  It took years for the industry to figure out how working together with these customers could actually enhance profits.  One of the major mistakes we made then, and perhaps it continues, is that we made the whole managed market world seem so complicated.  We might be doing the same things today with healthcare reform.

Healthcare reform, as well as most innovation, is quite complex and chaotic.  Perhaps a good starting point for how our industry could help shape the change is to think of simplicity.  What can be eliminated?  What things are a waste?  Can we simplify the marketing tactics we deploy?  How about savings cards?  The sampling process?  This thinking takes some effort but remember that simplicity on the other side of complexity has incredible value.

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