In the smartphone marketplace, two behemoths battle one another for superiority: Apple and Android. Each has their fans and detractors and operates under a very different principle than the other. While neither company has anything to do with the health care industry, we can use their competing approaches toward innovation as models to adopt in our practices.
Health systems, hospitals, and practices must increasingly rely on innovation to keep pace with the constantly changing health care and IT landscapes. There are two different schools of thought on how to accomplish this, exemplified by the tactics employed by the aforementioned tech giants: keep innovations closely guarded, as Apple does with its products and services, or encourage open sourcing from outside entities, like Android encourages. Each has its pros and cons.
Taking the Android Approach
When entering the smartphone arena after years of Apple dominance, Android distanced itself from its popular competitor by opening up its operating system to anybody with the interest and know-how in the hope of spurring innovation using an “outside-in” approach. This open concept toward innovation is popular with many in the health care industry, who wish to move beyond the confines of being a single-specialty provider into an all-encompassing “knowledge factory.” Doing so requires input from many different sources, including outsiders experienced in tackling problems that are new and unique to an expanding business model.
In turn, these outsiders bring innovative new approaches not only to problem-solving, but often inspire the development of new products and services that the health system might never have considered previously, or had the knowledge to pursue even if they had.
A New York-based health system, Northwell Health, is one such proponent of the Android approach toward innovation. By adopting a strategy of open collaboration, Northwell is able to harness the collective knowledge of many “brilliant minds” in other sectors and develop ideas that emphasize innovation in the digital era without forgoing its own commitment to coming up with custom applications, algorithms, and processes. An added bonus? This open approach is far more cost-effective in the long run.
The Apple Methodology
While there is much to like about the Android model of open collaboration, there are drawbacks, as well. One of the key areas involves security, a hot-button topic with today’s emphasis on patient privacy and HIPAA.
With a closed approach – the Apple methodology – it is much easier to respond to security threats. System updates and security patches can be released quickly and tend to come out on a more regular basis anyway.
Then there is the knowledge required to adopt creative strategies in the first place. A health care system is limited by its own policies, procedures, and regulations, all of which can hamper creativity. Open innovation often calls for strategies that have never been utilized or that run counter to existing practices. This often results in a lack of support that dooms the new approach to failure all too quickly. In addition, it’s easier to track and report closed systems, which are naturally more easily understood by their developers.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle of all is the difficulty in maintaining one’s own strategic vision when trying to incorporate so many potentially competing ideas. It’s easy to get sidetracked into developing products and platforms that simply don’t align with a health system’s core platform.