Amazon. Uber. J.P. Morgan. Berkshire Hathaway. Apple.

When you think of major players in the health care industry, do those companies come to mind? No? Well, maybe not today, but if they have their way, you will soon enough.

In fact, all of those companies have already made forays into the health care space. They are driven by the massive opportunity that the health care industry represents. At the heart of that opportunity is the increasing cost of health care. These large companies, often called “disruptive innovators,” are betting they can re-invent health care to be cheaper, more efficient, and ultimately better. And if they win that bet, the payoff could be massive. 

And they have good reason to make that bet. According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, U.S. health care spending increased 3.9 percent to reach $3.5 trillion, or $10,739 per person in 2017.

“What’s driving these disruptive entrants into the health care space are the out-of-control costs in the health care system,” explains Ben Spedding, DHA, faculty chair for Health Leadership and Innovation in Capella University’s School of Nursing and Health Sciences. “The increase in costs simply can’t continue, and therein lies the opportunity. Whoever figures out how to rein in costs without sacrificing patient outcomes is poised to reap huge rewards.”

But where does all this leave traditional health care organizations and those who lead them? According to Spedding, it’s time for them to up their game … in a big way.

“These disruptors represent an existential threat to the health care system as we know it,” Spedding says. “That’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially if they are successful. But for health care organizations, if they want to be part of the solution, they need to start thinking like disruptors themselves.”

Spedding offers the following advice for health care leaders to do just that:

1. Amplify your continuous improvement processes.

Ask any health care leader, and they are likely to report that their organizations have continuous improvement processes in place. That’s all well and good, but in today’s age, it’s not enough.

“Health care administrators can’t simply keep doing things as they always have, no matter how well-intentioned,” Spedding advises. “They need to fundamentally rethink what they do and how they do it from the ground up with a laser focus on delivering high quality care in a hyper cost-effective way. They need to think about the existential threats they are facing, not only from companies like Amazon and Uber, but ultimately from rising costs. Even without the outside disruptors, the ever-increasing costs in health care represent a mortal threat.”

2. Think like a disruptor.

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em … or at least think the way they do. Health care leaders who want to compete with the disruptors at their doorstep need to think about and approach problem solving the way they do.

Spedding says, “Health care leaders need to ask themselves, ‘What would Amazon or Apple do?’ It can be tough to step out of your comfort zone and your traditional way of thinking, but that’s how true innovation is born.”

Spedding encourages health care leaders to dive deep into the exploration of areas such as mobile devices and wearables that track patient health. He says they need to take a hard look at the distribution of care, such as with behavioral health assessments to identify patients who are self-motivated and others who need constant attention, and then adjust their care delivery accordingly. Everything has to be on the table.


3. Rethink technology.

Big, complicated, and expensive. Too often in health care, technological advances can be summed up by those three words. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Some of the most impactful technological leaps are simple and relatively inexpensive, Spedding says. 

He gives the example of a recently developed ultrasound device that attaches to your smart phone, can be taken anywhere, and costs only about $2,000 a unit.

“That’s how health care organizations need to approach technology,” Spedding says. “How can we make it affordable, mobile, and simple. Complex technology doesn’t need to be bulky and hugely expensive. It just needs to be innovative.”

4. Seek inspiration from outside your comfort zone.

Finally, Spedding advises looking outside of health care for inspiration. He encourages health care leaders to form relationships with innovative companies and leaders who are in industries completely separate from health care. Tour their facilities. Form partnerships to explore how you can join forces to tackle seemingly insurmountable challenges in health care.

“It can be a game changer when health care leaders really broaden their perspectives,” Spedding says. “That is when the ‘a ha’ moments happen—when you totally step into the unfamiliar and see the world with a fresh set of eyes. Without a doubt, this is sorely needed in health care.”

The task can seem daunting, and the competition fierce, but those health care leaders who pivot to think in a much more innovative, disruptive way are the ones who will be in the front of the pack in reinventing health care as we know it.

The graduate degrees in health sciences at Capella University can help foster the sort of critical thinking that is needed to drive the health care industry forward.

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