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Column | Staff Development

Healthcare’s future depends on attracting and retaining creative minds

Column | Staff Development

Healthcare’s future depends on attracting and retaining creative minds

  • Innovation is required to solve healthcare’s most pressing problems, but a pioneering mindset tends not to be prevalent in the industry.
  • Innovators who come from other industries can use their resourcefulness and creativity to find novel solutions.
  • To attract such talent, healthcare should consider how it can better brand itself as a stimulating industry in which to work.
  • Retaining creative talent requires finding ways to engage employees and offer forums in which they can solve problems.

Healthcare today faces numerous challenges, including issues with affordability, transparency, waste and accessibility. Additional pressure on the system comes from demographic trends, such as the growth of the elderly population, and epidemics, like the opioid overdose crisis. Resources are being stretched at the expense of patient outcomes. 

Melissa Powell

Clearly, solutions are needed, and that requires a new way of looking at things. Ensuring the industry has a supply of creative minds is vital to solving some of healthcare’s most pressing problems.

Why healthcare innovation tends to be in short supply

A consumer survey conducted by Klick Health found that only 17% of consumers perceive the healthcare industry as among the most innovative. Assuming that perception is valid, what’s stifling innovation?

The answer is an array of factors, from the high costs of clinical testing to ever-changing regulations to the complex supply chain. Widespread burnout leaves physicians without the time and energy to learn and try new technologies and approaches. Additionally, barriers between specialties lead to narrow thinking, preventing new solutions from being discovered.

The way clinicians are taught to administer treatment also limits innovation. As one physician states, “We are trained to identify the most statistically proven method for treating a particular disease, and we are taught to not deviate from that path until a better method has been found and proven.” This approach creates a risk-averse culture. Caution is understandable and warranted, given that lives are at stake. However, experimentation with new ideas also should be encouraged.

Despite the obstacles, there is reason for optimism. By actively recruiting, training and educating people to be creative problem solvers, the healthcare industry can innovate in amazing ways.   

Creative minds focus on solutions

Joel Dudley, PhD, director of the Institute for Next Generation Healthcare at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, defines creativity in healthcare as looking at problems through a new lens, in addition to “bringing in perspectives from other areas” and applying them to medicine.

For instance, just as Google employs big data to match ads to Internet users, healthcare facilities and companies can apply big data to ensure patients get the right treatment.

A great example of this concept can be seen at Spring Health, a Yale University spinout. The team is processing data through an algorithm supported by machine learning to help physicians choose a drug that’s right for the patient. This approach holds much promise for increasing the effectiveness of treatment and reducing the amount of resources needed to identify a proper treatment plan.

Additionally, as Sherrie Campbell, PhD, an experienced psychologist, notes, there is a connection between creativity and resourcefulness — a trait the healthcare industry can use to deal with an overburdened system. As she says, “Being imaginative is not always about creating something new, but also, with a little ingenuity, making old things work better.” Creative minds can take healthcare forward by making solutions out of what’s already available.

For instance, X-ray technology has been around since the 1890s. Recently, combining X-ray and mobile technology to create a mobile digital radiography system has ensured medical staff don’t need to move patients from the stretcher to the radiology bed — a step that’s dangerous and extremely unpleasant for patients with multiple traumas.

Creative thinkers not only examine problems with a fresh perspective, they know how to accomplish more with less. That’s why they’re the key to healthcare’s future.

How to attract creative minds

Aspiring tech stars flock to Silicon Valley to unleash their potential. Young financiers dream of making big deals on Wall Street. How can the healthcare industry generate similar passion?

Perhaps it starts with branding. R. John Fidelino, executive creative director of Interbrand Health, has been challenging the industry to showcase the inherent coolness of healthcare. Branding healthcare as a vibrant industry that improves individual and collective well-being could attract creative minds.

Notably, 68% of millennials want to make a positive difference in the world, and 78% want to work for an employer with values that match their own. Healthcare organizations align with what many are seeking.

Effective employer branding also would enable medical companies to lure creative minds from other fields. For example, Rich Levy, chief creative officer at FCB Health, credits selling healthcare as a way to change the world for his success in landing a star copywriter. The team is using that approach to recruit dynamic talents in every department.

With the right recruitment strategy, healthcare organizations can bring in creative minds across the board, from nursing to accounting.

How to keep creative talents and foster creative thinking

High turnover remains a problem in healthcare, affecting everything from the cost of services to patient outcomes.

Sustainable employee engagement is vital to retaining creative minds. For example, Scott Hopkins, a talent management expert in the healthcare sector, believes employee engagement stems from leadership development. With a culture of leadership and accountability, staff become empowered to work harder for their patients.

Healthcare organizations also should unite their creative talents around a mission. There has to be a culture of purpose.

Cleveland Clinic is a great model. In the late 2000s, leadership made improving the patient experience a priority. Today, to keep teams focused on problem solving, all 43,000 employees are assigned to gather in small groups periodically. The groups incorporate people with diverse roles, from surgeons to office administrators to janitors. Session participants exchange stories about their daily work and ideas about how to improve patient care.

Breaking down departmental silos through such meetings fosters thinking outside of one’s box, and that’s when new ideas can come to light. It’s how everyone in the organization is enabled to be creative problem solvers. Thanks to this approach, Cleveland Clinic ranks among the best nationally in patient outcomes and satisfaction.

Additionally, healthcare organizations should commit to employee growth and development, especially considering 87% of millennials believe development is important in a job. Such a commitment means offering in-house training programs and as resources to learn new skills and technology. In an atmosphere where learning is highly valued, people will be inspired to tackle big problems.

Turning healthcare organizations into creative problem solvers

I like to keep this quote from British educator and author Sir Ken Robinson in mind:

Creativity is the process of having original ideas that have value. It is a process; it's not random.”

First, we should realize the value of creativity in efforts to solve the most important healthcare issues of today and tomorrow. Second, we should take steps not just to recruit creative minds but also to build a culture and a development program that empower our people to think creatively.

With these steps, we can turn healthcare into a truly creative industry — one where solutions continuously emerge.

About the Author

Melissa Powell, LHNA,

is president and COO of The Allure Group, a network of six New York City-based skilled nursing facilities (melissa@allurecare.com).

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