THE BLOG
02/23/2012 11:47 am ET Updated Apr 24, 2012

Old Dogs, New Tricks: Embracing Collaboration to Drive Health Care Innovation

How do we spur innovation in a notoriously complicated industry like health care? It's hard to do, especially when you consider the spectrum of needs and diverse players: from big medical device, insurance and pharma companies to non-profit and academic providers, researchers, governments and, oh, yes, where it all starts: patients. Last week, I joined Chris Coburn, Executive Director of Cleveland Clinic Innovations and Andrew von Eschenbach, former Commissioner of the FDA, to discuss shaking things up in health care. We agreed that traditional players must act in non-traditional ways, especially by working together in new ways, to lower costs and improve outcomes. For example:

Connecting Non-Profit Researchers and Investors: The Cleveland Clinic has created an accelerator to pair the latest research from its top academic scientists and doctors with venture capitalists. The result is 47 spin-off companies and counting, focused on solving medical problems from migraine headaches to spinal disc injuries, most based in Cleveland near the Clinic, and an increased "intellectual churn" of new ideas back and forth.

Open and Reverse Innovation: At GE, two models are showing great promise. Recently we launched an open innovation challenge to find and fund new ideas outside the company for improving breast cancer diagnostics. We're humbled by the more than 500 ideas submitted from a range of researchers to whom we can offer financial, technical and commercial support. Secondly, we've embraced "reverse innovation" in a big way, collaborating with patients and providers on the ground to address localized needs. Emerging markets are proving to be laboratories for the developed world -- they demand the best technology at the best price point. One result is a less expensive baby-warmer, pioneered for Tier Three hospitals in India, which then found an unexpected market in Finland. Who would have guessed that providers in rural India would have helped us develop a great product for an advanced market in Scandinavia?

Regulator as Risk-Enabler: Too often regulators like the FDA are seen as barriers to innovation, but they can actually help kick-start it by establishing clear guidelines and then getting out of the way. Former Commissioner von Eschenbach described the process as keeping the racetrack clear of obstructions and providing strong guardrails. In this model, regulators become risk-enablers and innovation partners. He cites as examples of this innovative regulation in markets like Israel and Singapore, where health care-related government agencies have been able to successfully partner with the private sector and academia to encourage innovation.

These are just three examples of how innovation in healthcare can be catalyzed and driven by traditional institutions that have learned to interact and collaborate in non-traditional ways. Health care's complexity demands these new approaches.