Defining the ROI for health care innovation

Naomi Fried, PhD, is Chief Innovation Officer at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Return on innovation ROI

When people hear about ROI, they often think of financial returns and “return on investment.” But, in my world, ROI is actually “return on innovation.” While the return on innovation can be financial, it can also take many other forms. Here are my top five.

  1. New treatments or tests: One return on innovation can be a new treatment or diagnostic. For example, in evaluating patients with certain brain conditions, clinicians measure intracranial pressure with a spinal tap, an invasive, often unpleasant procedure that can cause side effects. Gena Heidary, MD, PhD, knew she could improve upon that. With a seed grant from our Innovation Acceleration Program, she explored using a type of hearing test, available in many physicians’ offices, as a noninvasive way to measure intracranial pressure. If successful, this new method would be a low-cost, pain-free and broadly available alternative to the spinal tap.
  1. Improving the patient experience: An example of this form of return on innovation is a project that won an award from our FastTrack Innovation in Technology (FIT) Working with our internal software development innovation team, one of our doctors created a mobile app to help patients navigate their inpatient hospital stay. Dubbed MyPassport, this app helps patients and their families access their care plan, test results, pictures of their care team and other information. Our pilot showed that patients loved this new tool and felt empowered and less confused about the care they were receiving.
  1. Improved patient safety and care quality: An example here is a novel, hand-held automated device to clean central lines and reduce infections. Developed by a Boston Children’s team led by John Kheir, MD, Sarah Goldberg, MD, Pierre Dupont, PhD, and Ali Ataollahi, PhD, with the support of an Innovestment Grant, the patent-pending device won first prize at the Innovation Tank at Boston Children’s Global Pediatric Innovation Summit. It was noted for its potential to bring down health care costs by increasing health care quality and safety.
  1. Clinician efficiency: An example in this category is the ALICE digital smart board, a nurse-led innovation to replace the grease boards used to track which patient is in which room, how to reach their doctors, and some basic clinical information. Nurses used to have to update these boards manually, but ALICE automatically updates itself in real time, pulling information from four disparate clinical information systems in the hospital. Doctors can access it anywhere in the hospital and check on patients virtually, no longer visiting rooms when patients are not in. Another example of clinician efficiency is the Discharge Communication (DisCo) platform built by the FIT team, which allows nurses to send text messages to patients after discharge to ask about their status, including whether they have filled their prescriptions or have any questions. A nurse can view the answers on a dashboard and quickly see which patients need a follow-up phone call before spending time on those who are doing fine.
  1. Financial: Yes, sometimes the return on innovation can be financial. A great example of this is BEAPPER. Built with a FIT grant awarded to Debra Weiner, MD, PhD, BEAPPER is a mobile app for the Emergency Department (ED) that supports clinician team communication and pushes lab results out to clinicians’ mobile devices. The pilot of BEAPPER demonstrated that clinicians received lab results 28 percent faster, a time savings that can be translated into increased revenues. Saving just 5 minutes per patient would allow our ED to see an additional 1,400 patients each year at no additional cost.

ROI is no longer the purview of financial analysts alone. Return on innovation is the reward for taking a risk to create new ways of doing things or making a bold move to disrupt traditional processes. It can be measured in many ways and is an important part of the equation for health care innovators everywhere.

Return on innovation is the new ROI.