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Café Innovation – Mind your Process

I was at a small gathering of friends on New Year’s Day to celebrate and welcome 2011. As it turns out, most of the guests were physicians or other health care professionals. As the conversation inevitably turned to the issue of better healthcare in the United States, I found (somewhat to my surprise) that there was a small but very vocal group decrying the push for Electronic Medical Records (EMR). Presenting this as a conspiracy of certain vested political interests, they claimed that this would lead to an intensely “big brother” like oversight of medical practices and of care provided to individuals.

As I probed to find out why these individuals were so upset about the widespread adoption of EMR, I discovered that there were a number of factors (some quite disturbing) that made them react this way. Going into those should probably be the focus of some other forum, but there is a key take-away from that discussion that is relevant to the readership of this forum. It has to do with “process.”

The contention of this vocal group that EMRs would make life worse for patients and physicians alike was based on the rather unfortunate fact that today it is not easy to get to all the relevant medical records in a timely fashion, and hence irregularities do not get surfaced readily. Their opposition was driven in part by the concern about over-zealous denial of legitimate claims by insurance companies who could now focus more easily and readily on the minutiae of any patient’s medical history. What this points to is a glaring hole in the process of how healthcare is dispensed and recorded and then analyzed. Appropriate controls, security and privacy of records and compliance with HIPAA regulations baked into a more commonsense approach could lead to a more complete process with appropriate checks and balances in place. And, this situation can be made healthier by technology not worse!

So, exposing my naiveté in the healthcare debate, I ventured to suggest that we were not going to succeed in turning the impact of technology backwards, and that the chances were that we were not going back to using stone tablets but to more electronic versions such as the iPad (Apple) and PlayBook (RIM). My comment was met with a very uncomfortable silence that was only broken by the host’s announcement that dessert and coffee had been served.

What this anecdote underlines is the fact that because a process is broken and there seem to be no willing partners to help fix it, there is tremendous fear and angst about the most elementary of innovations amongst the user community. This dynamic exists in society and in business organizations. It is incumbent upon those who recognize it to shine the spotlight on this aspect. Whether it is the macro healthcare situation facing society or the case of a commercial enterprise, the fundamental piece in securing lasting innovation has to be “process.” Time and again, we have found that some of the most unsuccessful technology implementations have been those that have failed to focus on “process” in spite of the most elegant technological design.

In this new year, as we ready ourselves to deploy new technology, every organization will be well-served to consider the impact of process change. Fundamentally, a process change must help reduce costs, boost revenue, or do both. This in turn will impact the use of the relevant technology. This needs to be our core cornerstone consideration to drive any new functionality or innovation – let that be our New Year Resolution.

Welcome to 2011! Happy New Year!

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