Return to Blog

The art of disruption: driving innovation in healthcare

Blog By Duncan Khoury – 28 May 2021

Disruption lies at the heart of any innovation. 

Take companies like Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Netflix. They all began with someone changing the way they think and challenging the status quo. By looking at things from a different perspective and removing limits to their thinking, their founders have done more than just disrupted entire industries. 

They’ve actively created new ones.

So when it comes to healthcare, what is disruptive innovation and why does it matter? And how, exactly, do you start to disrupt the status quo and make innovation happen?

Here are our recommendations.

What is disruptive innovation?

“If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.” – Peter F. Drucker

First coined by Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen, the term ‘disruptive innovation’ means a change that transforms an existing product, service or process. 

This change starts with the way we think. It requires breaking through our existing limits on ideas. And, as a result, it can transform the way we live, the way we work, or both.

Disruption: essential to survival

Not every organisation can – or wants to – be the next Google or Uber. So is disruption necessary? Or is it a practice best left to start-ups?

When it comes to healthcare, we see disruptive innovation as essential. Scientific advances, technological improvements and shifting patient demographics create an environment of constant change. Without disruption, healthcare systems and organisations not only get left behind, but community health and wellbeing also potentially suffers. 

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of disruptive innovation. As the pandemic spread, healthcare systems globally scrambled to manage patient care, implement contact tracing and attempt to limit the spread. 

Countries with the resources to prioritise and quickly embrace digital healthcare advances could better track developments and manage impacts. Meanwhile, other – less fortunate – nations struggled, with serious consequences. 

When is the right time for disruptive innovation? 

For healthcare organisations looking to innovate, identifying the right time can be a challenge. Should they carefully plan and consider innovation? Or should they take a leap of faith and just act before the opportunity escapes?

The right time for your organisation will depend on the type of change you want to make, and what’s driving it. Here are a few scenarios that are ripe for disruptive innovation:

  • During a crisis: over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented unique opportunities for healthcare organisations to introduce new practices and adapt to changing circumstances. 
  • An imbalance in the industry: a limited number of key players in a sector can lead to innovation being stifled. Larger organisations tend to continue with proven practices, often facing little to no competition, which gives organisations with new ideas an opportunity to create change. 
  • Out-of-date technology: sectors that use old technology are particularly ripe for disruption. Old processes can create roadblocks for both staff and customers, creating a need for new products or services and the appetite to embrace them. 
  • Patients are ready: if there’s a gap between what patients need (or are demanding, according to your research) and what you offer, they’ll likely embrace innovations quickly. 

Examples of disruptive innovation in healthcare

For many healthcare systems around the world, COVID-19 brought about much-needed disruption. Digital health developments accelerated at an unprecedented speed, with necessity making certain advancements a priority. Some examples include:

  • Automation in COVID-19 antibody testing: the UK’s NHS has been trialling bots to manage testing employees for COVID-19 antibodies. The automated process covers three stages – submitting the request, patient input and sending results. This ‘light-touch’ system reduces risks to staff while allowing them to focus on delivering great healthcare. 
  • Home monitoring applications: patient self-assessment and self-care have become a key part of healthcare innovation since widespread smartphone adoption created easy internet access. In France, the app Covidom helps patients to manage their mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms at home. The app allows a regional control centre to monitor and analyse all results, ensuring patients at home can be hospitalised or have an ambulance called if necessary. 
  • Wearable technology: in Shanghai, healthcare organisations used Internet of Things (IoT) technology to help alleviate resourcing pressures. They connected Bluetooth sensors to a multi-patient management system to provide real-time temperature data. This enabled staff to respond rapidly and appropriately to changes while reducing the risk of healthcare worker infections.

Learn more about some of the key challenges the industry met in 2020, in our healthcare finance issues article. 

Creating the right environment for disruption

Behind any disruptive innovation lies an organisational culture that encourages employees to challenge the status quo. If you’re on the path to being a disruptive innovator, here are four things you’ll need to consider in your business model.

1. Encourage risk-taking

Healthy risk-taking is fundamental to creating disruptive innovation. Building risk into core values, rewarding risk-taking and leading by example all encourage employees to think outside the box and test new ideas. 

2. Make mistakes OK

Changing the way employees think about mistakes can change the way they work. Making mistakes and learning from them is a part of any innovation, so an environment where employees feel safe to make mistakes is crucial. 

3. Break through barriers

Innovation can be stifled by red tape and inflexible rules. Creating a space where unnecessary hierarchies, approvals or rules don’t constrain people can encourage creativity and help new ideas come to life. 

4. Tap into different ways of thinking

Innovation can lie buried within your organisation in less vocal, less visible employees who hesitate to share their ideas. Consider different ways to elicit employee participation that cater for different personalities and perspectives.

All disruptive innovation starts with change

Being truly innovative and adapting to the evolving world we live and work in starts with being open to change. Changing the way you think and challenging the status quo can unlock new doors and opportunities. 

However, disruptive innovation also requires resourcing, so if you’re looking for flexible healthcare funding for your disruptive idea why not talk with one of our supply chain finance specialists today? 

Consult an expert


Disclaimer: The following comments are only our views and should not be construed as advice. You should act using your own information and judgment. Although information has been obtained from and is based upon multiple sources the author believes to be reliable, we do not guarantee its accuracy and it may be incomplete or condensed. All opinions and estimates constitute the author’s own judgment as at the date of publication and are subject to change without notice.