Is it innovation or improvement?


A lot of people get twisted into knots about differentiating improvement from innovation. In the case of bioscience and medicine, we usually are referring to bioscience devices and drugs; in the medical arena, digital health, systems, processes or care delivery. What is an improvement and what is an innovation and how to measure them are often in the eye of the beholder, but, in my view, the differences are both qualitative and quantitative.

The qualitative difference, in a nutshell, is that improvement means doing things the same way but getting better results while innovation means doing new things or making new things and getting better results.

Either improvements or innovations can result in minimal or spectacular improvements in outcomes. For example, suppose you are tasked with improving start times in your OR. Or, how about getting inpatients who are having signs of early stroke to the CT scanner faster so that they can get clot-busting treatments? You can do it by making improvements in your existing system, or you can create a whole new system and incorporate innovative communications, mobile health and asset-tracking technologies that are new.

Secondly, the outcomes of either improvement or innovation can be quantified and may overlap in results. One might be better than the other. The primary purpose of either for private companies is simple: financial impact. It is usually defined as the return on innovation investment and can be quantified. In healthcare, a system or process improvement or innovation is usually measured with different metrics like quality, access, service time, and betterment of population health or disease incidence or prevalence.

The point is that there are several ways to skin the cat. There is a lot of "bizspeak" and buzz about incremental vs. disruptive innovation and everything in between. Whether you face a problem trying to improve, innovate or disrupt, how you do it and how you measure the outcome will depend on the boots you have on the ground and leadership.

Think about that when next time your patient absolutely, positively has to get there overnight.