The Mölnlycke Health Care blog

Invisible innovation: Sometimes something you cannot see makes the world better

By: Sara Sundström, May 21 2013Posted in: The Mölnlycke Health Care blog

Looking into the future of healthcare there are a number of challenges to be addressed – things that will affect us all regardless of whether we work within healthcare or not. These challenges include a shortage of nurses, an aging population, more people who need surgery, increased costs both for providing and seeking health care, just to name a few. To manage this we need to think in new terms, healthcare needs to be smarter, more cost effective – and therefore innovative.

Innovation is one of the most popular buzzwords nowadays. More or less every company includes it as one of their core values. But what does innovation really look like? Most people think of companies like Apple, Google and IKEA but usually don’t think of themselves, their own achievements and great thoughts as innovative. What makes innovation so hard to spot?

Could it be that some innovations are invisible? After listening to an inspiring TED talk by Nirmalya Kumar on India’s invisible innovation, I realised that much of what he had to say is applicable to the hospital environment and the perioperative setting. Kumar likens innovation to an iceberg – only ten percent is visible above the surface while the major part is hidden below the surface – invisible. Take Google as an example: their search engine is the visible innovation, but the coding that enables quick searches and the algorithm that makes these searches relevant and valuable are the real innovations – but they are completely invisible to most of us. This “innovation invisibility” is true of the perioperative setting as well. The innovations you actually can see are only a minor part compared to the invisible ones.

Visible innovation would be the MRI machine, the hybrid O.R. or something the patient sees and experiences, like a new medication. These parts are easy to spot – but you may not notice the new software included in the control system, the invisible innovation in material development to create the stent or the brilliance hidden inside the molecules of the medicine.

What could also be invisible is the nurse’s way of organising the instruments to facilitate the surgeon’s work, the quicker way of cleaning the O.R. between patients, or the updated logistics system creating a smooth flow of products in and out of the department.

If most innovations are invisible, how do we learn to appreciate them when the person or people behind it may not even recognize the beauty or genius of the idea? Do we even acknowledge the invisible things around us? I see this as a big problem because these invisible innovations are vital for creating sustainable healthcare.

It is easy to get the impression that innovation is something overwhelmingly difficult, but take a look around you. Is there a process, a product, or a way of working that needs to be improved? How could you do that? Pay attention to the invisible things – and remember to treasure them as they are really what make a difference. Looking toward the future we have a shared interest and responsibility to make healthcare the best it can possibly be. 

And who knows, if most innovations are invisible, perhaps you are an innovator without even knowing it?

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About the blog

The surgical and wound care environment is always changing. The Mölnlycke Health Care blog addresses topics and trends in surgery and wound care. Among these topics are efficiency, health economy, infection control and patient safety. Read more about this blog and how to comment.

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