iPod, iPad, iHop. Innovation for the rest of us.

By Jeff Terry

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How incredible is Apple? Apple transformed computing, music, phones and computing again. Consider this: in 2009, tablet computers basically didn't exist. In April 2010, Apple launched the iPad. In 2011, about 50 million tablet computers will be sold. Wow. That's transformation.

Leaders across healthcare are searching for similar transformational innovation. It's everywhere; at the Kaiser's Garfield Health Care Innovation Center in California, at the NHS's Heath Innovation and Education Cluster (HIEC) in London, at The Joint Commission's Center for Transforming Healthcare... Many readers of this blog have been recently involved with CMS's new Center for Innovation and the Partnership for Patients. And, I went to iHop. Innovation is everywhere.

What do we expect from all this innovation? I've spoken with innovators in Baltimore, Chicago and Dallas about the "nursing unit of the future." Some are working on it already. The idea is simple: let's design perfect safe loving efficient nursing units complete with all devices, tools, interfaces, interoperability, floor plan and room plan. Rather than depending upon leaders in hospitals to piece a unit together when they're assigned to oversee construction of the new hospital, let's do it for them.

Isn't that how aviation works? United Airlines doesn't piece together planes... Boeing and Airbus do it for them. Better yet - what would Apple do? Wouldn't they innovate and transform how we even think about nursing units? In a year or two, wouldn't we all wonder how healthcare functioned before iUnits arrived?

Maybe. Maybe not.

Apple-like innovation may be too much to hope for.

But what about iHop? Maybe they're a better model. IHOP operates 1,500 restaurants. And, like healthcare, the last few years have not been easy as a variety of forces have put new downward pressure on margin.

IHOP's innovation has been to adapt without losing their identity. In order to serve the growing health conscious market, they've added a Simple & Fit section to the menu. The impressive part is they've done so without losing their identity. Moreover, Simple & Fit is clever in that it not only highlights healthy options, like Simple & Fit Seasonal Fresh Fruit Crepes. It also explains how to modify any entree to make it healthier, e.g., no butter, grilled chicken, egg whites, etc. The beauty of this approach is to inform the consumer on what might be ordered and prepare the server for healthy requests. This is not trivial as no one likes getting the "you're so high maintenance" look. All in all, iHop's innovation is impressive. It is still iHop but healthier, more current and probably more profitable.

That's innovation. And, maybe it's realistic innovation. Hospitals are, after all, hospitals. Our challenge is to continue to deliver great care for millions of patients. We just need to be a bit more efficient, a bit safer, a bit more pleasant, a bit... iHop anyone?

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