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June 16, 2017

Have a great idea? Here's how to get your hospital's lawyers on board.

Daily Briefing

To innovate despite the legal and regulatory obstacles in health care and other highly regulated industries, "you must address innovation barriers head-on," Naomi Fried, the former Chief Innovation Officer at Boston Children's Hospital, writes in Harvard Business Review.

8 steps for successful change initiatives

Fried outlines her seven tips for addressing and overcoming hurdles that can impede innovation:

  1. Proactively build relationships with your organization's legal and regulatory teams. Innovators should proactively seek out legal, regulatory, and compliance staff early on in an innovation cycle, Fried says, explaining that doing so "gives them time to digest the new idea and provide input and guidance while the idea can still be shaped into an innovation." For instance, Fried said involving lawyers in a project at Boston Children's to use videoconferencing to connect doctors with patients at community hospitals helped resolve legal concerns—and in fact led to the lawyers becoming "some of the most enthusiastic internal advocates for the program." And don't try to circumvent your firm's lawyers if they initially disagree with an idea, Fried added. Instead, keep talking to them about the potential benefits, because when "lawyers understand the benefits, they will find ways to drive the innovation forward."

  2. Identify an innovation advocate. Finding a legal or regulatory expert who will champion innovation builds credibility for the project and can help innovators navigate the organization as well as the industry, Fried says. She advises innovators to "be open" when picking a partner—the person can be a bright young lawyer, as it was for her at a biotech company, or the right individual might be a veteran attorney.

  3. Make conversations into discussions. Rather than asking "Can we...?" ask "How can we...?" Fried writes. This framing "encourages thinking about how something can be accomplished despite existing restrictions." For instance, when she worked at Boston Children's, Fried opened a series of discussions about who would own any intellectual property resulting from the hospital's first hackathon. As a result, "outside innovators and the hospital found common ground and a way to share the IP."  

  4. Keep people in the know by communicating broadly and regularly. According to Fried, holding regular monthly meetings with the legal team at Boston Children's was among "the most impactful things" her team did to promote innovation. Informal check-ins are fine, she adds, but regular meetings afforded the team a forum for discussing emerging issues together. Fried's team also held monthly forums to discuss innovation with a broader team of stakeholders and published an annual report to keep stakeholders informed about progress. And on an individual level, Fried herself made rounds to all the clinical departments to keep on-the-ground clinicians informed.

  5. Sniff out—and combat—"folk law." Folk law refers to unofficial norms that are accepted as the way things are done because it's how they've always been done, Fried explains. Because folk law is often treated as formal protocol, it can present a barrier to innovation. But with some discussion about why folk law exists, companies can identify an effective policy that allows for innovation while acknowledging the underlying concern the folk law sought to address. For example, Boston Children's used to prohibit its executives from tweeting—but that policy "disintegrated" when the hospital's legal team realized it existed only because none of the executives had routinely posted to Twitter. "Soon after, the regulatory team issued a set of internal policies and guidelines around the use of Twitter by employees," she adds.

  6. Watch the competition. According to Fried, legal and regulatory staff can be hesitant about the prospect of their organization becoming the first to "chart new territory." But innovators can address this concern if they show legal and regulatory staff how industry competitors are innovating and how regulators are responding.

  7. Have patience. Innovation "takes longer" in regulated industries, Fried writes, but it's not impossible. She says innovators should "expect setbacks," but don't let the obstacles stop a project—and don't forget to involve legal and regulatory teams. "With time and patience," she concludes, you can accomplish the ultimate goal: success (Fried, Harvard Business Review, 6/12).

8 steps for successful change initiatives

Performance improvement seems simple at first: identify a problem, then take steps to solve it. But in practice, many organizations struggle to get change initiatives off the ground, often due to four pitfalls: lack of leadership attention, poor work planning, rocky rollout, and insufficient follow-up.

This overview synthesizes years of Advisory Board research and experience into a single road map for performance improvement and defines eight steps crucial to avoiding these major pitfalls in any change initiative.

Download the Brief

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