Fard Johnmarr describes the vital role professional failures could play in fostering digital health innovation.
Let’s face it. When it comes to tolerating and encouraging failure, there’s a big disconnect between what people say and what they do.
In many organizations and businesses, failure and risk-taking is punished, even though both are vitally important — especially in industries facing or undergoing significant digital-induced economic and human disruption.
Failure is an important part of successful innovation. And, innovation is more than a buzzword. It’s an essential economic activity that can help to preserve and create jobs.
It’s time to do more than say that failure is important. We need to encourage people to fail. How? By recruiting, training and incentivizing a cadre of people who have the confidence, skills and courage to fail early, often and publicly in the service of innovation.
We need professional failures. Our jobs, companies and economies may depend on them — in healthcare and beyond.
We’re Still Coming to Terms With What it Means to Live in the Digitally-Fueled Information Era
Old habits die hard. Although we’ve firmly entered the digitally-powered information age, we’re still operating under the rules of the industrial economy. Here are a few examples (relevant to the United States):
– We educate our children in the industrial model, with a focus on memorization and passing tests rather than teaching self-reliance, critical thinking, persistence and creativity
– We hire people and expect them to become cogs in the machine as opposed to allowing them to take responsibility for their jobs and providing them with the freedom to do fulfilling and creative work (within the scope of their responsibilities)
– We question companies that engage in continuous experimentation and develop products and services that ultimately fail, but teach important lessons and lead to future breakthroughs
The information age requires people to have an entirely different set of skills such as creativity, curiosity, critical thinking and a high tolerance for failure. These traits are also shared by innovators.
So, how can we do a better job of preparing people to live and thrive in the information era? We need to actively train around and encourage innovation — and failure. Rewarding people for their failures, as well as success — by professionalizing the act of failure — may be one path forward.
Another reason why professional failures are necessary has to do with economic reality. Digital technologies have disrupted a range of sectors — from publishing to education. In almost every case, people within these industries either ignored the coming changes, or failed to create incentives that allow for the rapid experimentation, risk-taking and innovation required to save companies and jobs. This must change, and professional failures could help.
Below, I describe the vital role professional failures could play in terms of fostering and protecting economic vitality in the area of digital health.
How Healthcare’s Near Digital Future Demonstrates Why Professional Failures Are Essential
Currently, healthcare is undergoing a slow, but steady digital revolution. A number of the digital health tools and technologies being invented and perfected today will have a profound impact on how doctors, hospitals, technicians and others make money.
I’ll explain the economic impact of health’s digital information age by telling the fictional story of Sam’s journey through the U.S. health system today, and in the near future.
Sam’s Journey Today: Expensive and Time Consuming
As outlined in the illustration below, Sam’s virus is only diagnosed after a complicated series of hospital visits, tests and conversations with his physician. Every time he touches the health system, Sam is generating revenue for hospitals, technicians, diagnostic companies and others.
Sam’s Journey in the Near Future: Faster, Cheaper and More Convenient
There’s a tremendous focus in healthcare today on reducing costs wherever possible. Many insurance companies, employers and government agencies are looking at how digital tools can help control and reduce costs. In addition, companies like Target, Wal-Mart, Walgreens, Rite Aid and CVS are gearing up to compete with hospitals, and clinics for the dollars generated by delivering direct patient care.
In the illustration below, I describe a very different healthcare experience aided by digital technologies (mobile, diagnostics, video) and places where Sam can go (outside of the hospital) to receive testing and more. All of the technologies featured below are either available or being tested today.
The Significant Economic Consequences of Digital Healthcare for Doctors, Hospitals and Others
As you may have quickly realized, the digitization of medicine and shift to delivering care outside the hospital (at home or stores like Wal-Mart) has significant economic consequences. Most importantly:
– Hospitals and doctors depend on the revenue generated by routine patient visits (vaccinations, diagnosis of “stomach flu” and other minor ailments, etc.). How will they adjust to a world where patient volume (and revenue) is much lower because people don’t have to go to the hospital or clinic as often?
– How will doctors be reimbursed for delivering remote consultations to patients? Will they receive less money? Are doctors needed to manage most routine cases or can nurse practitioners, pharmacists or other health professionals play a significant role?
– How will the rise of cheap medical diagnostics impact the lab testing and diagnosis industry? Will lab technicians lose their jobs? Will diagnostics companies make less money or go out of business?
– Addressing these profound economic challenges will require time, patience and, yes, innovation. Professional failures can play a significant role in this effort.
This is about more than hiring people to innovate. Instead, hospitals, physician groups and others would incentivize people based on the number of new projects and experiments they run designed to address pressing business and economic issues caused by digital technologies — whether or not they are successful.
Professional failures need to be rewarded for their setbacks, as well as their successes because creating a sustainable economic future in the face of digital change is a difficult and long-term effort.
Some Next Steps for You
I hope that you’ve found this essay useful and are intrigued by the concept of professionalizing failure in the area of digital health and beyond. As for next steps, please:
– Print out, bookmark, or add this essay to Evernote so that you can refer to it later
– Share it with at least 3 of your friends and colleagues via email
– Think carefully about how you can reward failure in your own organization, team or even in your personal life
Fard Johnmar is a digital health futurist, researcher and co-author of the #1 bestselling book, ePatient 2015: 15 Surprising Trends Changing Health Care.
On December 12, Fard will be hosting a unique event, the Digital Health Maven Growth Salon. During the salon we’ll focus on strategies for promoting and supporting failure in the service of innovation in the health arena. Click here to learn about the event.