Disruptive innovation v. sustaining innovation
Recently we’ve come across the phrases “disruptive innovation” and “disruptive technology” in conversations, editorial requests, etc. more often than usual. A client asked us what this meant exactly, and we realized that it’s a phrase that’s used often but not often assessed. And then there’s “sustaining innovation,” used less often but even more applicable to much of our HIT network.
Defining disruptive and sustaining innovation in healthcare:
Disruptive innovation (or technology) is a software, system or device that disrupts the way we use technology in our industry—replacing existing technology and creating a new market demand. Common examples in HIT include things like smartphones and tablets, which may one day redefine our delivery of care. A recent list for 2014 included such innovations like interoperability, Google Glass, 3D printing and optogenetics.
Sustaining innovations evolve existing technologies to be more accessible, efficient, cost effective, etc. They do not establish a new market but rather offer an evolutionary version or add-on to existing technology. An easy translation of this are scanners. They allowed providers to digitize paper notes/results/etc., so it was easier to employ electronic records and track operations, even instill business intelligence, all without having to completely reset their paper-based systems.
Understanding these terms in healthcare:
Both are just as valuable to the market, but aren’t necessarily perceived the same way. Disruptive technologies can oftentimes be discussed as just that: disruptive. In fact, the founder of this term even explains that it requires decentralization for these innovations to take hold. And in a market where providers are struggling to meet dozens of regulatory and care model shifts, it can be a challenge to push these solutions quickly, as the market tries to catch up to the new technology, understand the short-term ROI and rethink aspects of their IT strategies, training and even staffing in order to accommodate this new tech. That said, these are sometimes the most exciting technologies to discuss, as you are essentially driving the entire industry forward—and helping to define what it will look like 5, 10, 15 years from now.
While sustaining innovation isn’t thrown around as a term quite as often, this is an incredibly practical and critical part of any industry. These are sometimes the stepping stones to disruptive innovation, helping providers to maintain existing technology and processes, but improve upon them and make them more accessible. They may not be as flashy, but are much more tangible for providers that do prioritize innovation but are struggling to stay competitive. The negative connotation of sustaining technology can be that it’s simply a Band-Aid of sorts to a larger problem. But sustaining innovations are not patching a problem; they are transforming an existing technology to be more suitable to today’s demands.
The future of disruptive technology:
The easiest way for us to envision the future of disruptive and sustaining technologies in healthcare is to look at what the market is producing in other industries, as we often follow suit behind consumer and business trends from finance and retail to airlines and automotive. I enjoyed this article from Forbes that dives into the disruptive innovations they anticipate in the coming years (my favorites include driverless cars and immersive interfaces). Any ideas of how we could apply these to healthcare?