Had a eureka moment but not known how to get it off the ground? Raj Purewal, from the NHS innovation experts TRUSTECH, shares how you and your team can nurture innovative ideas.
Ideas are at the heart of innovation in the healthcare sector, and no matter how big, small, simple or complex, NHS staff must actively be encouraged to think of new ways to transform day-to-day tasks and patient care, with the aim of providing better quality services and to boost efficiencies.
Some of the best innovations in healthcare began life as proverbial light-bulb moments from NHS staff, particularly from people on the front line who have invaluable insight into a specific issue that requires a solution. This has driven enormous improvements to the standard of patient care over the years.
As an example, a Macmillan nurse consultant from University Hospital of South Manchester NHS Foundation Trust created a training model
that incorporates communication skills research evidence into a memorable format. With our help, the SAGE & THYME training package has equipped more than 40,000 healthcare staff to be better at listening and responding to patients or carers who are showing signs of distress or concern.
Not only can ideas help improve lives, they can also generate an income for organisations that properly protect and develop them into commercial products. Whether they are related to education and training materials, cutting-edge medical devices and equipment, diagnostic screening tools, or anything in between, there is a responsibility to encourage people to come up with their own ‘eureka’ moments, to stimulate new, novel approaches and ideas, and importantly, to see those ideas brought forward instead of remaining in the back of people’s minds.
With the right infrastructure in place, organisations can cultivate environments that are open to new ideas, and encourage innovative spirit across the workforce. Think about the processes, systems and tools currently in place within your own organisation – is there support and encouragement from management? Is there a culture that supports freedom to think, facilitates the flow of ideas and presents an open door for staff to air their views? Organisations are increasingly using training programmes, running competitions and encouraging conversations to raise awareness of innovation and creative thought among staff.
Once ideas are captured, before developing them further, they should be assessed to understand the impact, clinical need, novelty and commercial viability. Having the idea is certainly the first breakthrough step. Translating that into a successful solution is where the hard work begins, closing the gap between the initial idea and the final result. Here’s what needs to be considered:
What is the nature and extent of the problem the innovation addresses? Consider the level of demand and the number of patients it affects – does it affect patients across the country, across the world, or is it unique to one area?
Think about the unique selling points and whether there is any other competition to the solution. Crunch the numbers, too. If possible, calculate potential sales based on demand, for instance.
Support and encouragement is essential to help ideas grow. Determine the level of support currently available and the additional resources required to take it up to the level needed, such as staff, materials, finance and equipment.
Safeguarding is a must. There are various mechanisms that help here – patents, trademarks and copyrights are necessary depending on the nature of the innovation, so research this area carefully and understand the associated costs.
Linked to the protection of ideas is also confidentiality. Innovations normally require collaboration with internal and external sources to develop a successful product or service, so a confidential disclosure agreement protects ideas and keeps them safe, which is essential especially during early stage conversations.
It’s important to demonstrate how the idea works in practice, so think about how to go about this. Research and development departments within the innovator’s organisation are good starting points and can often help here. For instance, ethical approval is necessary for products that need to be tested on patients and CE marks
are required for medical devices.
Strive to thrive
Fuelled by a strive to do things better, together with the challenges of ever restricted budgets, the NHS is on the right path to innovation. However, there remains significant space for greater achievement, but it must move high on the agenda of every healthcare organisation across the UK.
Many people within the NHS workforce have experienced a ‘eureka moment’ at some time or another – a new, exciting, undiscovered idea that could bring a fresh way of thinking to healthcare. Our task is to tap into the minds of our workforce and become innovation friendly.
Raj Purewal is the business development and partnerships director at TRUSTECH. Follow the organisation on Twitter @TRUSTECH_NHS
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