Innovation Still Has Staying Power

AUGUST 02, 2015
The term innovation is frequently used in today’s lexicon. Whether it is used as a verb (to innovate) or an adjective to describe an activity (innovative), the term appears in all sectors of society. It is used so often that many do not pay attention when it is mentioned. 

While I hear about innovation in reference to health care and medicine, I do not see it being used in pharmacy to the same extent. For instance, I am not aware of any hackathons for pharmacy-related topics, and there are no events like “Shark Tank” where new ideas and products are pitched for feedback, financial backing, or monetary prizes. Professional pharmacy associations and pharmacy schools do not host day-long, practice-focused seminars or certificate programs on bringing an innovative idea from concept to reality, navigating different funding opportunities, or commercializing an idea.

While these activities do not occur with any regularity in pharmacy today, it is not from a lack of trying. I have personally submitted various proposals on topics like these for national meetings, and I am aware of others who have done the same, but have not had much success. I am not sure if it is because of a perceived lack of interest, an inability to convey the topics’ necessity, or a misunderstanding about the value, need, or opportunity. Regardless, I believe pharmacy students and new practitioners are clamoring for these experiences and would eagerly participate in them.

It might take a few sessions to introduce the concept and garner interest, but the end result would be creative solutions to some of the most perplexing problems facing the pharmacy profession today. There are talented individuals in our profession, and we need to introduce opportunities for them to discover these skills while providing a venue to act on them.

Even though these activities are not routine in pharmacy, they are happening to a great extent in universities and the communities where we live. Incubators are being created to help nurture start-up companies, accelerators are being placed on universities to help advance faculty member’s discoveries, and entrepreneurship and innovation courses are being marketed to undergraduate and graduate students as part of their training. Even hospitals are creating venture capital funds in order to invest in new technologies invented by their employees, or in products and services that they could use in their care delivery.

I do not think these innovation-focused activities will stop any time soon. In fact, I believe they will become very popular among certain demographics. Here are a few reasons why:

1.    We are in need of innovation.

Health care is in a rapid state of change. Science is expanding the boundaries of our knowledge, the cost of drugs and technology is soaring, more patients want to be treated in the ambulatory setting, and there is a tremendous amount of data being generated and collected. At the same time, there is a need for solutions that can integrate and automate, increase the efficiency of processes, and monitor for success. Innovation is the necessary ingredient to make this happen across all sectors of society.

2.    Innovation is not easy.

Anyone who has ever attempted to commercialize an idea or start a new company knows it is difficult. While all of the success stories are frequently highlighted to publicize the benefits and opportunities, very few failures are mentioned, even though failure is much more typical than success.

Describing the story behind the innovation and providing resources to advise others is helpful to sustain momentum and increase the odds of success. These organized activities will help generate excitement and provide needed assistance for others. Networking and mentoring is a critical activity for any new innovator who lacks a track record of success.

3.    Younger individuals are more interested in innovation-related activities.

There are stark differences among the various generations. While some might enjoy and appreciate the security of a large corporation, others might want to work at a small company. Some might recognize that it takes time to work their way up to the top, while others are more impatient and want to get there quickly. Some might be risk averse, while others are risk tolerant.

In any case, the idea and opportunities of innovation might appeal more to the younger generation because of their stage in life. This is why they talk about it more often than others, and they are usually the demographic that enrolls in these competitions and attends these seminars. The professional associations and pharmacy schools that are the first to develop and offer these programs will be able to capture the excitement of this group, as well as the financiers who want to invest in their innovations.

Innovation is here to stay. Pharmacists need to not only understand the term and participate in the aforementioned activities, but also nurture and mentor others. Providing opportunities for networking and education is critical if we want innovative ideas to come from within pharmacy, rather than from others who do not understand the profession’s needs as we do.

I would appreciate any insights and experiences you might have on this perspective. You can let me know what you think via email at seckel@unc.edu. 


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