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To Spark Innovation, Tech Matters, But Your People Matter Most

Our very own, Paul Cooper, CIO for NRC Health, was quoted in this Forbes article, published at forbes.com


When I entered the business world years ago, I primarily hired friends and family members, only to discover that they could not provide me the candid feedback necessary to inspire growth and innovation. Simply put, I needed to be challenged. I needed to rely on colleagues who knew more than I did about a given topic, who could give me new ideas and open new horizons.

It was a correctable mistake, and one I did not repeat when I founded The Allure Group, a network of nursing facilities, in 2011. Rather, I assembled a team that would challenge me, question me and inspire me. While nurturing a team of different perspectives comes with many benefits, one has remained consistent since I started the company: our ability to collaboratively drive technological innovation.

Such innovation is among the many things critical to providing seniors with the best possible care, especially since the number of seniors is growing by the day. It is estimated that by 2034, some 77 million Americans will be over the age of 65, while 76.5 million will be under the age of 18, the first time in U.S. history seniors will outnumber children. A quarter-century later, there are expected to be 95 million seniors, more than twice the number in 2016.

That only increases the challenges facing skilled nursing facilities. Already some 1.4 million Americans are housed in nursing homes, and 70% of those facilities have low staffing.

Filling The Gap

Technology can go a long way toward helping skilled nursing facilities overcome that staffing dearth, while at the same time meeting the ever-increasing needs of an aging population.

For one, electronic medical records (EMR) can impact care, costs and outcomes, and improve workflow at the same time. Big data and cloud-based solutions can also impact many of those same areas and offer the possibility of developing new drug and treatment options. Telehealth and telemedicine present treatment and diagnostic options, especially in underserved areas, while various software applications can help track vital signs, prevent injuries and even help seniors stay in touch with loved ones.

My company offers EMR and telemedicine platforms and has strived to remain on the cutting edge of technological developments in several other ways. We use a remote patient monitoring system and another sensor to track cardiac patients. We employ robotics to help rehabilitate patients and incorporate a virtual reality program to aid those recovering from a stroke.

Other healthcare facilities have been no less forward-thinking. With the input of patients and staff, Pennsylvania Hospital designed the Pavilion, which will feature 500 patient rooms, 47 operating rooms and state-of-the-art tech when it opens in 2021. The University of Chicago employed predictive analytics to ease operating room logjams. Chatbot Florence is an AI-powered chatbot that consults with patients about their conditions and also gives reminders about when to take medication.

Greater Strides Ahead

There are nonetheless those, like me, who believe healthcare could be making even greater strides in the tech realm. There remain significant security concerns and issues pertaining to user-friendliness that will demand attention going forward. There are also some solutions better suited to certain patients and conditions than others. Paul Cooper, CIO of consumer data analysis group NRC Health, has said that while technology can be easily implemented, choosing the right technology for the company and its patients can be difficult.

There are, in other words, no one-size-fits-all solutions for healthcare facilities. It is, once again, a matter of hiring smart people, creating a culture in which they can thrive and then executing.

In a Harvard Business Review article, Sydney Finklestein, professor of management at Dartmouth, advised that business leaders create something called a “change notebook,” which involves nothing more than dividing a piece of notebook paper into three columns and soliciting the input of others on one’s team. In the first column, you can list the company’s current practices and in the second, those things that might disrupt the status quo. And in the last column are the ways in which a business might respond to those disruptions. Take out the change notebook often enough, and eventually, it becomes a fixture in a company’s culture.

Ideas Welcomed

Others have a different means to that end. At Google, for instance, employees are given one full day a week to develop their own ideas. CEOs and managers can incentivize the creative process by offering such things as comp time or bonuses and provide employees with the proper tools to fully explore their ideas.

I try to encourage ideation in other ways. One is by regularly touring every department in all six of my company’s facilities, something other senior staffers do as well, to gain a firm understanding of day-to-day processes. Another is by giving voice to residents’ concerns through advisory councils. And finally, I study our competitors’ processes, ever alert for something that can be adapted to our use.

But there is no better way to innovate than by surrounding yourself with people who will challenge you, question you and inspire you. That is the first step to push your business toward the cutting edge. The creative process can and should be encouraged, even incentivized. That will ensure a company remains relevant and competitive in a rapidly evolving environment.