I'm Praveen Suthrum. After 13 years of building and running NextServices, a healthcare technology/management company, the challenges and opportunities in the industry leap out at me. I also get early access to industry trends and changes.

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How to Spur Innovation in Healthcare

How to Spur Innovation in Healthcare

I loved Google Labs, an online site where you could stop by and test drive the company's latest projects and innovations. Google discontinued it in 2011. In fact, I found this list of discontinued Google products and counted more than 75.

To get winners such as Android and Google Docs, the firm has had to experiment; not all its experiments have succeeded.

The same is true in healthcare. In our company - which serves healthcare providers - we constantly experiment. For example, we extended our electronic health records (EHR) platform to Google Glass, before we recognized that it would still take time before doctors adapt wearable displays to access patient records.

We also integrated our EHR to 23andMe's genomic health information - a personalized test for individuals that analyzed their spit sample - until the FDA banned the use of the service for health. The promise of personalized healthcare is quite exciting, so we invested time and effort in experimentation. 23andMe recently announced that they would now use their genetic database to start a therapeutics division to develop drugs.

Such activities build competencies that prepare you for the future. It is a mistake to look at them through the lens of seeking immediate benefits. If you expect every project to deliver a guaranteed return, you will never be able to innovate, and you will have a very hard time developing new capabilities.

We started as a services company, but taught ourselves to develop a modest web portal that did analytics for clients. It was a small experiment that gave us confidence to commit to developing a mobile/cloud-based EHR platform, even when we didn't have the money or skills.

Today, our comprehensive platform has multiple certifications and is in daily use by clients. We perceive that the platform will eventually have global relevance as a healthcare operating system that can support any health organization.

This does not imply that we have the solution to every problem at the intersection of technology and healthcare. We don’t, but we have something nearly as valuable: the willingness to learn, to experiment, and to fail.

To serve our clients in the United States, South Africa, and other locations, we spend a significant amount of time shadowing individual healthcare providers. Some embrace technology, while others find it intimidating. So we tailor our platform to meet the needs of different groups.

Some physicians carry an iPad everywhere, and in large measure delight in entering their own data. They comfortably see patients without the tedium of documenting records on a PC.

Other physicians still dictate information or scribble on a pad of paper, reliant on assistants who transcribe information into the EHR.

In both cases, we adapt our system to work differently for different groups. Both types of physicians still get to access patient information from their iPad or home computer when a problem arises at 2 a.m. This, too, requires experimentation.

Our world - and especially the healthcare industry - has become far too complex for any one solution to solve all challenges. The right approach is to bring ingenuity and a curious mind to each new situation. If you’re not a bit intimidated by each new project, then you probably don’t understand it enough. A bit of fear and apprehension ensure that you will focus sufficiently and bring your best talents.

I don't think Google necessarily thinks of each experiment as a win or defeat. They are mostly evolutions. Some are stopped, some are changed, and others are released. We have a similar mindset, and so should you.

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