Fostering Innovation In Healthcare Finance


Kevin F. Brennan


Chair, HFMA

Innovation often is presented in a way that makes it seem elusive. To be within our reach, it must be addressed systematically like any other business issue: Define the problem and then solve it.

I recently returned from HFMA’s Annual Conference, where I had the great honor of being installed as our Association’s 2018-19 National Chair. While there, I also had the opportunity to present my “Imagine Tomorrow” theme and share why I believe imagination and innovation can advance our systems of care by turning opportunities and challenges into executable improvements. It was exciting to hear similar ideas expressed by other presenters, including the keynote speakers who addressed such topics as seizing opportunities, emerging technologies, and disruptive innovation.

Examples of successful innovation surround us,from the Internet to significant genomic breakthroughs to artificial intelligence. But the fact is, innovation does not have to be on such a grand scale to be successful. And that raises an important question: How can we foster innovation in our own organizations?

Addressing this question is one of the toughest challenges facing healthcare finance executives today. We continuously grapple with how to get our employees to think creatively and challenge the status quo, while simultaneously continuing to keep everyday operations running smoothly. Innovation, after all, is not like most other business processes, where we have reliable templates, rules, procedures, and measures of success.

An essential first step to fostering innovation is building a culture where there is no such thing as a “bad idea.” Focus on pulling as many ideas as possible out of individuals’ heads and getting them into the group’s head. Promote experimentation and be philosophical when things go wrong. Innovation, after all, is about taking risks and learning from failure. The important thing is to not repeat the same mistake.

One of the most challenging aspects of innovation is getting people to acknowledge and accept that the way they work may not actually be the best way to do things. Change can be difficult, so give people a reason to be enthusiastic about trying new tools or making existing tools work better. It also may be necessary to attract more people from outside our traditional workforce—people with diverse skills and talents who can help challenge the status quo.

We also need to help people see that there are many types of innovation. It’s not just new products. Innovation can also take the form of better customer service, new business models for providing care to a population, or more efficient systems with better outcomes.

Finally, successful innovation starts at the top. When leaders take time to imagine a better tomorrow—and encourage their teams to do the same—the possibilities are limitless.