Transformation in the healthcare system: opening up to the world of startups

During this Mind the Chat, we had the pleasure to learn from the experience of Martin Curley, Director, Digital Transformation and Open Innovation at Health Service Executive (HSE). Thanks to Martin’s leadership and efforts, HSE was recognized with the 2020 Public Sector Open Innovation Award (as part of the Corporate Startup Stars program run by Mind the Bridge) for its ability to collaborate and co-innovate with startups. Martin told us his story and how he created innovation within an organization that before 2019 was impenetrable to startups.

HSE, with about 130,000 employees, is the primary service delivery organization for health and social care in Ireland. The challenge Martin had to face when bringing innovation to HSE was that most public services aren’t incentivized to innovate. The healthcare system was actually designed to minimize variation to maximize quality and patient outcomes.

Spotting the Opportunity

“The paradox is that healthcare is probably the most information-intensive industry that exists, but it was the least digitized. So, we recognized that there was a real opportunity”.

As new technologies were coming up, Martin’s team understood that they needed to engage with startups and scaleups (such as PatientMPower, PMD Solutions, Redzinc, Synchrophi, MyPatientSpace). To be able to design new solutions with them, they fully designed a new innovation pipeline that has four phases.

  • Exploration phase
  • Proof of concept or pilot
  • Demonstration to prove the business case
  • Broad adoption.

To facilitate the process, HSE created an instrument called Living Lab, the key construct of open innovation 2.0, that facilitates the innovation process in the field including in an acute hospital setting, or a patient’s home in a community setting.

Changing the mindset: innovating in an environment where change is not part of the plan

Being part of a governmental public administration entity is a challenge by itself. You have to face all the bureaucracy, complication, and scrutiny that naturally comes with it, and you are surrounded by a setting where the mindset is highly resistant to change. Martin explained to us that culture played a key role in the innovation process and in creating successful outcomes. With the help of the living lab where it was legitimate to experiment, they were able to create a culture where it was fine to fail and where people wouldn’t be scared to take on innovative initiatives.

“If you cannot break the barriers, keep them low, as much as possible”

When assessing innovative solutions, Martin and his team always had in mind four key benefits: improvement in the quality of care, reduction in cost, improvement in quality of life, and improvement in the clinician experience. They would pick the technologies that will have the most benefit and the best chance of success in creating value. They also implemented a startups selection process, with a digital solutions Review Board, composed of representatives from across the business, as well as the IT and digital people. 

The whole process of selecting solutions that would bring clear and immediate benefits and having a Review Board bringing in the perspective of different business units significantly helped to reduce the barrier to adoption.

The Best Practices used by top innovative organizations are effective also for the public sector

Martin shared his four takeaways, a good starting package for organizations that want to innovate, either in the public or private organizations.

    1. Enlist high-level support. If you’re going to be an innovator, you are going to need some wingman and somebody that will help you as you go on your innovation mission.
    2. Have a great team around you. Very often, people who have a nose for innovation self-select to cover the role of innovators. “I’ve been lucky that I’ve had some really fabulous people who saw my vision and have self-selected into the team”.
    3. Identify external partners who will boost your reputation. “You need to identify either the key partners or the business leaders that are up for change and are willing to co-innovate. They will share the risk with you because there is a shared reward”.
    4. Get and properly communicate quick wins. These are very helpful, they build confidence within the team and tell the narrative of the story of innovation success.

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2:25: About HSE
4:52: The innovation pipeline and the HSE Living Lab
12:23 Strategy and motivation as key components in the innovation process.
19:03 Navigate obstacles to innovation in an environment where change is not part of the plan
24:33 The takeaways on innovation best practices

About the Guest Speaker

Currently Director of Digital Transformation and Open Innovation at HSE, Martin G. Curley is a recognized leader in Open Innovation and highly sought after for participation in advisory boards. He has been the director of IT at Intel Corporation, where he was responsible for the IT group’s organizational and professional development, intellectual capital management, and solutions prototyping. He has also held IT management and engineering positions at General Electric and Philips Electronics.

About the author

Simona started her career in the UK as a financial analyst at ION, the software provider to financial institutions, corporations, and central banks.  After gaining a Master’s Degree in Entrepreneurship and Finance from UC Berkeley, she joined an early-stage Silicon Valley startup where she was responsible for the go-to-market strategy.  Simona has also worked at Turo (unicorn startup in the mobility and travel sector) and SoftBank where she was in charge of the Business Development and Strategic Partnerships activities.

Simona joined Mind the Bridge in 2021 in Barcelona, she is currently part of the Advisory Team as Innovation Advisor, with a particular focus on energy & sustainability, mobility, and insurtech & fintech sectors. Simona has had professional experience in England, Ireland, Silicon Valley, Dubai, and Shanghai.