Nov. 4, 2021

Innovation Unleashed

Innovation Unleashed

Isn’t it strange that in a time of crisis, ideas come flying in response?  America is facing a horrifying situation and the demand for PPE, ventilators and other medical equipment exceeds supply.  Immediately, ideas from sources that aren’t even in this industry started pouring in.  I have seen Dyson repurpose their vacuum technology, a ventilator made from Lego robotic pieces, manufacturers change from making cars to making vents, people printing face masks on their own 3D printers and analytics at massive scale be purposed to tell a story.  It is in these unseen times everyone becomes part of the solution vs. the problem.

Many know the Unicorn is not a fan of HIPAA or security.  Now, let me clarify before you stop reading and curse me under your breath.  HIPAA has a purpose but that and many other rules and regulations hinder innovation.  I personally don’t care who has my health information. I’d sacrifice that to have wearables that notified me if I were about to have some sort of an event, for example.  I want big brother monitoring my health to help me improve.  The rule meant to protect the weak has been extended to weaken and hinder healthcare innovation.  Under the current state, all that, along with the ridiculous FDA approval process timeline, has been adapted and look at what is happening.  Inventions are flying in to save lives and fight this pandemic.  But what about security?  Often, security is again used as a barrier against its original intent to protect data.  People hide behind security rather than the harder approach of innovation and accommodation with security policies. It slows progress and can, occasionally, be used as an excuse.

I am not suggesting that we move to the wild west where whatever half-baked concoction we come up with hits the streets, but I am an advocate for a balance between testing to perfection and the risk associated with gaining benefits early.  On the other side of this pandemic, we will need to find a way to keep this innovation in healthcare as part of the culture so that we are prepared for the next crisis.  Innovation is not just happening in the form of products. We have modified laws, changed how the FDA investigates and approved drugs and moved at the speed of light, comparatively, to the “10 years behind” where Healthcare was historically.  One thing is for sure, how it was is no longer acceptable.

From a supply chain perspective, I find myself explaining why we were short on PPE.  Many people like newscasters, my neighbors and my mom ask me, “Unicorn, why didn’t we have a bazillion of all these PPE products at hand ready to go?”  The answer is so complicated, but their anger is so palpable I must walk a wandering path to answer.  They want so desperately to blame someone, whether that be President Trump, China, hospitals, etc.  None of this behavior is healthy nor really warranted.  Why didn’t we have warehouses full of all this stuff in Kansas?  The answer is that it simply doesn’t make sense.  For one, that would be expensive and who would pay for it?  These costs would get added to the already insane cost of healthcare that everyone complains about.  Now think, we haven’t needed these supplies at this level since 1918.  So that theory suggests we hoard supplies for 102 years on the chance we might need it.  Secondly, all that equipment must be refurbished. Yes, it expires or needs maintenance.  And third, I would rather not live in such fear, but instead build a scalable supply chain and analytics to know what is needed where and who can produce it when.  This later 21st century approach is available now, and I for one would like to invest here as opposed to wiping out the state of Kansas and covering it with warehouses full of stuff.

What if we had better unrestricted flow of information that was being monitored by AI that sounded warnings and initiated increases in production of needed supplies?  Analytics can make our lives better if we would just use it.  Last decade, we focused on capturing data with all these data warehouses, integrations and interoperability and data, data, data.  But what did we do with it? Well, not much generally. Now is the time to put all this data to use, to understand patterns and trends to create models to be predictive so we can be proactive and not reactive.  That is what you are finally seeing with the maps of COVID-19, etc.  But the data didn’t just appear. It was there, but restricted and protected in the spirit of privacy or preventing harm.  It is time to change the paradigm and stop living in fear of big brother and empower analytics to drive innovation.  Are we afraid someone might know our health condition and discriminate against us?  Okay I get the fear, but then let’s manage that action and not restrict the rest of the free world from the benefits.  Of course, this is one unicorn’s perspective.

The reliance on the federal government to solve our problems is a bit concerning to me as well.  The innovations and answers aren’t coming from government agencies, they are coming from communities, researchers and innovators across sectors.  They are motivated to save people they don’t even know.  Humanity has spread across industry and I hope this remains. What if we innovated to have better healthcare with the purpose of improving people’s lives, not making a profit off the widgets we typically sell?  Why did this pandemic have to hit to have these companies turn to innovate in healthcare? You may not like the answer.  Greed is the answer.  Working to maximize profits so you, who invests and purchases stock, see a return and stock price increase.  Now, some companies are innovating still under the motivation of greed, sadly, and simply wanting to get a press release out there to help their good will.  Luckily, there are companies now understanding that operating to improve the world makes their employees happy and engaged, thus reducing turnover.  They are realizing they have a social part to play in the world, not just a responsibility to their stockholders. I hope that gains enough strength to become the new norm, not just the pandemic inspired flash in the pan.  What if all these companies became the researchers to solve the problems our analytics warn us about before it becomes an issue? What a different world it could be for all of us.

Innovation isn’t the few.  It isn’t Elon Musk, Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs, Nikola Tesla, Bill Gates, Da Vinci or even Dr. Fauci.  Innovators are you and me and people who work at companies and hospitals.  These folks are the ones who answer the call when needed.  How about we harness that power all the time?  Why do we need hackathons and innovation challenges?  I suggest we find a way to all contribute to any issue at any time.  That flow of ideas may contain the cure to cancer, or simply ways to make us have a better quality of life.  Our thoughts are power, and I welcome yours as we lead this discussion of innovation around the world to create change for the improvement of humanity.