Hospital Innovation Exec Talks Disruption, Events & Engagement

November 10, 2014


“I came to Brigham in 2009. Clinicians and scientists didn’t feel supported in their innovation efforts… they were innovating in spite of us.”

The Innovation Hub was created as “a place where people could get the support they needed to move their innovation forward: project management, market analysis, prototyping, etc.” It launched in September 2013 with the hospital’s first hackathon. Solomon has four people on the team, and they report to David Bates, the hospital’s Chief Clinical Innovation Officer.


“We’re in the business of disrupting traditional medicine — improving care delivery and creating value. We want to focus on those things that will help reinvent healthcare. There are groups in the hospital that are focused on process improvement and tweaks to the system. We’re not doing that; we’re looking to transform how care is provided.”

“The big goals are to create new revenue models for the hospital.”

Programs, Events, Promotion

“We created an innovation series. We partner with department chairs to focus on innovation in that department. The ‘top-down-ness’ of that is really effective at getting people’s attention – the chair of their dept says we are going to spend the next three months focusing on innovation – it encourages them to get engaged. We’ll do a brief intro in a faculty meeting. A lot of people still haven’t heard of us yet. We’ll do a brainstorm within a month. We get them to pitch their challenges, and talk about their biggest pain points. My team will research the market opportunities, looking at what competitors are doing, talking to the clinicians, and then we have an acceleration event. We bring in outside entrepreneurs or engineers, who spend 4-6 hours with those clinicians taking those ideas and moving them forward. It has been really effective at creating buzz in the departments. Whenever we do one, other chairs will call me and say they want to do one. We’re doing one right now with the Department of Surgery.”

“We go to a lot of faculty meetings and do one-minute pitches for the Innovation Hub. We have Collaboration Nights on topics like fundraising and design thinking. We have collaborated with MIT, Harvard Business School, The Capital Network, and Children’s Hospital to put those on.”

“We’ve done two hackathons, in September 2013 and 2014. This year, one of our partners was Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts. They take a lot of work; I don’t think I could do more than one a year. We leave them open thematically, but this year we invited six clinician leaders to talk about key strategic focus areas for them at the hospital, and what they’re looking for over the next 6-12 months to help them. When teams were forming and people were hacking the next day, if we come up with solutions, we might have a customer right here. We had bulletin boards up in the lobby; anyone [at the hospital] could come down and post their pain points. We had a couple hundred people come and share the pain points of their jobs. And the people participating [in the hackathon] could go up to the boards and get inspiration and see if their idea was relevant.

“What I have learned about hackathons is that they’re really great at creating buzz, getting people excited about what you’re doing, starting to have a little shift in culture. I don’t think the top, top ideas come out of a hackathon. But it helps us build our community. We like to hold our hackathons at the hospital, so that there’s engagement. We’ve had many top surgeons and clinicians just stop in and weigh in on what a team is doing, and it has been amazing. We had someone from our simulation center bring a mannequin, and he taught an engineer how to intubate someone. I see mindsets changing, and I see us building a community.

One of our biggest challenges, and we’re working on this, is when you bring outside people in, you give up some ownership of ideas.

The Future

“We might get some funding to do some small seed grants for new ideas, but we did a survey last year, and learned that the biggest barrier to people moving ideas out of their heads was not funding, it was not knowing what the next step was. So they need support. The prizes that are most sought after at the hackathons are not the big money prizes; they’re prizes where you can get advice from clinicians or entrepreneurs.”

Next up for the Innovation Hub: “We did a pilot ‘Shark Tank‘ earlier this year, to engage the external startup community to solve problems around patient experience and patient engagement at the hospital. We see a big opportunity in engaging with the startup community. We did an internal exercise this week to think about the best way to do that. Right now, we do pilots, and we negotiate for equity in return for piloting things at the hospital. But we’re doing an assessment of how we should be working with the startup community beyond pilots. Should we be developing a fund that can invest in startups? Should we offer advisory services for startups? That will be a focus for us this year. We’re in Boston, where there’s so much great healthcare innovation happening. How can we engage with the ecosystem more than we already are?”

The Innovation Hub’s focus so far has been on therapeutics, devices, diagnostics, and digital health. “Our steering committee has had some discussions about whether to narrow that. [But] if we were to say we only do digital health, that takes out a big chunk of our universe.”

“We are so far from where we were two years ago. People are really excited about where we’re going. The steering committee and the people on it are the only people that have been constructively critical of the work that we’re doing, and that is the most helpful thing for me — when they say, ‘Why are we doing another hackathon, or partnering with this organization?’ They are the executives that will question what we’re doing, and force us to stop and think.”