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You may use this brief for informational, non-commercial purposes with credit attribution: The Global Health Delivery Project,, Sep 24, 2015. Please see our Terms of Use for more information.

Principles and Challenges in Health Innovation

Added on 24 Sep 2015

Authors: Chelsey R. (Beane) Canavan, MSPH; Reviewed by Rebecca Jurbala and Marie Connelly

Innovation in health care is more important than ever since the implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), which has brought about efforts to increase value and reduce costs.1 2 Technology can be used to engage patients and practitioners alike, open communication channels, increase dialogue, and bring together communities.3 Collaboration is an essential element in bringing about solutions to health care challenges. Various efforts such as Rapid Health Innovation (RHINNO), Sophia's Garden Foundation, Care at Hand, and Health for America are empowering patients and providers, creating communities, transforming health care delivery, and promoting innovation in health care.

This Expert Panel examined the current challenges and opportunities in health innovation. Given the conditions of fragmentation in the health system and misaligned incentives, we can both learn from and be inspired by experiences with health innovation.4

Key Points

  • Patient empowerment–innovation is a key part of a growing movement toward patient-centered care, as innovators focus on ways to further empower and engage patients in their health care.
    • Despite this movement, patients still face challenges within the healthcare system, such not as being taken seriously by practitioners.
    • Innovation is improving patient engagement. For example, in the U.S. and internationally, the implementation of Community Health Worker (CHW) programs allows CHWs to support, educate, and empower patients.
    • Various technological developments are helping patients take responsibility for their own care, and increasing patient-physician dialogue.
      • For example, the “What’s up, doc?” IOS application provides an appointment scheduling and reminder feature, as well as suggestions of the top 5 questions the patient should ask their clinician during a short visit.
  • Systemic change in U.S. health care is needed to support continued innovation across the delivery system.
    • Historically, health care has not been integrated, and has been provided in short bursts between the patient and the health system.
    • We are now moving toward a model of more continuous and comprehensive care, where practitioners are members of a care team that more frequently engages with patients to provide care and support.
    • Innovations such as IT systems that allow communication among members of a health team and reimbursement systems to incentivize quality over quantity can help facilitate a more comprehensive health care system.
  • Empathy is an essential innovation tool for entrepreneurs and inherent in a patient-centered approach. o It allows them to put themselves in the shoes of those in the health system, in order to find innovative solutions along the spectrum of care.
    • Empathy permeates methodologies such as Design Thinking and Lean Startup, processes of innovation that can help innovators bring about change in health care.
    • Emotional intelligence within the health system is necessary to support patients and families, who can often feel scared or uncertain.
  • Sustainability is an important element of innovation.
    • In order for an innovation to continuously add value, it must be sustainable. Sustainability comes from commercial viability and ensuring that the innovation will live on and continue to add value to patients. For example, a digital health startup that is for profit is inherently driven to be sustainable.5
    • Quality improvement has become a standard of clinician training, but in addition to the triple aim of providing better care, improving population health, and lowering costs, we must also think about sustainability.
  • Innovation is a team sport. Collaboration among people with different skills and expertise adds value for all parties. Innovation in health care is about engaging people to identify and solve problems, using empathy as a catalyst to drive change.

Key Resources


  1. AHRQ. Implementing the Affordable Care Act: Innovations That Improve Health Care Quality and Access. AHRQ Health Care Innovations Exchange. 2014. Available at:
  2. Beck M. Mixed Results in Health Pilot Plan. The Wall Street Journal. July 2013. Available at:
  3. Chin WW, Hamermesh RG, Huckman RS, McNeil BJ, Newhouse JP. 5 Imperatives Addressing Healthcare’s Innovation Challenge. Paper presented at: Forum on Healthcare Innovation. Harvard Business School, 2012. Available at:
  4. Ostrovsky A. Risk Faced by a Hospital-based Startup Incubator. Disrupt Healthcare. February 2013. Available at:
  5. Ghandi M, Pascoe D. FDA 101: A guide to the FDA for digital health entrepreneur [slidedeck]. Rock Health, 2013. Available at:

Download: Principles_and_Challenges_in_Health_Innovation.pdf (145.7 KB)