April 1, 2021
Innovation is transforming how care is delivered and improving the experience for patients and providers. The use of telemedicine has soared. Roughly 80% of physicians now use electronic health records systems, and the global digital health market is expected to exceed $504.4 billion by 2025.
An increasing number of entrepreneurs and innovators are tackling challenges in healthcare, but many of these solutions will never make it to market. It is critical to lay the right foundation by applying the principles of discovery and validation early in the process of innovation in healthcare technology.
Innovation thought leaders like Steve Blank have lauded the importance of discovery and validation. During the discovery phase, innovators gather data to substantiate market needs by talking to potential customers and other stakeholders. This data forms the first iteration of a business model.
Despite being informed by data, the business model also contains numerous assumptions. During validation, experiments are designed to test assumptions and reduce uncertainty. Often, experiments yield new insights and inform business model pivots while requiring innovators to conduct additional discovery. Innovators must collect enough data to feel confident about their assumptions without getting caught in an endless loop of testing.
This constant churn of trying to make sense of data helps get early stage healthcare innovations off the ground. For those in the healthcare field, the experience can be taxing. So-called “innovation fatigue” can set in fast, particularly for team members who don’t realize they’re embarking on a marathon instead of a sprint.
The pressures on healthcare organizations and employees make them even more susceptible to fatigue. Is it any wonder so many of them skip validation altogether? It might be tempting to make definitive decisions after an involved discovery excursion, but that won’t help stakeholders in the long run. Not testing after gathering insights can lead teams down an expensive road by building a solution and going to market prematurely.
Still, plenty of well-meaning healthcare innovators believe validation is not essential. Sometimes, it’s because they believe in the mythos of overnight success; they underestimate the time and resources required to explore and de-risk early stage opportunities, ultimately failing to anticipate the iterative nature of discovery and validation. Other times, they become overly confident in what they’ve seen and achieved during discovery and think no further iteration or learning is necessary.
To be sure, discovery gives healthcare innovation teams the knowledge to extract and shape a preliminary idea and begin to identify underlying risk quickly. Nevertheless, discovery alone means very little in practice. Validation is required if healthcare technology innovators really want to design experiments that will help resolve uncertainties, reduce risks, and pinpoint whether a hypothesized solution should persist, pivot, or perish.
Ultimately, organizations that lack a clear bridge from discovery to validation will see high-potential opportunities linger in their innovation pipelines. They never move because no one’s sure what to do with them. Eventually, these opportunities may fade away — meaning the healthcare system (and the people it serves) suffers.
If your healthcare organization stalls after discovery or can’t get innovations off the ground, take heart: Learning to validate isn’t rocket science. The process just requires you to rethink your approach to up-and-coming tech solutions. Here are three steps to get you started:
1. Define your discovery and validation phases upfront.
The first step of avoiding innovation fatigue is to map out your discovery-validation process at the beginning. View deliverables from the discovery phase as key assumption identifiers that should be uncovered during interviews and research. Using them as a springboard, you can then outline fast and low-cost experiments to validate your health tech hypotheses.
2. Outline an effective discovery-validation approach.
Not every team includes people who have the skills necessary to complete both discovery and validation. In the discovery phase, for instance, innovation teams need to conduct ethnographic interviews. In the validation phase, innovation teams must design and conduct experiments that reduce uncertainty. Therefore, team members might require specialized training before embarking on the discovery-validation process — or you might opt to bring in external partners to help.
3. Set and follow well-defined criteria.
Discovery and validation cannot be rushed. Pushing or skipping either phase only creates longer timelines and adds to the bottom line. Consequently, healthcare technology innovators must become accustomed to setting milestones at the onset and then creating decisive rubrics to keep moving along a well-considered, disciplined process. The rubrics allow team members to design experiments in a way that addresses all considerations and helps validate (or not) proposed solutions.
Can the two phases of healthcare technology innovation be demanding? Absolutely. But with adequate practice and support, healthcare innovators can become engaged in and energized by this different way of working. They just need a little runway — and they’ll be off and flying before long.
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