Trying to Bring More Innovation to American Health Care

Susannah Fox, the chief technology officer of the Department of Health and Human Services, was the entrepreneur-in-residence at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and also served as the associate director of the Internet Project at the Pew Research Center. She arrived at HHS as the initial healthcare.gov issues were being resolved, and her mandate has been to lead other innovations within the agency.

In an interview, Fox discussed those efforts to encourage innovation, including use of the IDEA Lab, an initiative for workers inside and outside of the department to explore unconventional solutions for problems in health and health care.

Fox spoke with me (no relation!), as a guest writer for On Leadership and the vice president for leadership and innovation at the nonprofit, nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Q. Tell me about trying to create an entrepreneurial spirit at HHS through IDEA Lab.

A. The essential ingredient of IDEA Lab is to open as many doors as we can to people outside the government who might want to contribute their expertise, whether it's through a short-term engagement like a prize competition or a longer-term engagement like coming in for a tour of duty as an entrepreneur-in-residence.

The other half of the story is recognizing the entrepreneurial spirit that is sometimes buried deep in the hierarchy in a federal agency. We try to recognize people who are doing out-of-the-box thinking and taking action to create change. We try to give people a chance to test ideas. It is a way to give them a little bit of space, a little bit of time, some air cover and a chance to ask questions.

This post was originally featured on The Washington Post's website.