Healthcare’s Next Big Innovation Could be Right in Our Hands

May 7th, 2013
Posted by

When seeking healthcare innovations, it’s traditional to look first at basic science, then clinical research, or at engineers tinkering with new devices. But this view might be a little too narrow, as advances with the greatest impact may come from industries that have nothing to do with healthcare.
Take Purell, for example. Ohio-based Gojo Industries designed the now-ubiquitous hand-sanitizing gel for auto mechanics. And it was almost a failure; mechanics and consumers alike first rejected the product as a little strange, and nobody, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, originally believed that alcohol-based cleaners provided more value than plain old soap and water.
But Purell started to take off when nurses who used it in hospitals started requesting more samples. The nurses had been looking for an antiseptic alternative to stringent, frequent washing with soap and water, which was very tough on hands. Now, not only has Purell (and other alcohol-based cleaners) been approved by the CDC, it is selling by the hundreds of millions of dollars each year; Gojo even has a test hospital lab to find more uses for the cleaning gel.
What does Purell tell us about healthcare innovation? First, that great healthcare ideas don’t always emanate from healthcare industries; Purell came from a firm that didn’t have a purpose for or intended buyer audience in healthcare at first. Second, just because an innovation is a good idea doesn’t mean it will be accepted. Sanitation pioneer Ignaz Semmelweis famously demanded that his surgeons wash their hands more than 150 years ago; his advice was rejected, partly because of his own personality quirks and partly because of the harsh cleaning regimen he required. And finally, managers and leaders aren’t the only people who introduce innovation. Like Purell, other healthcare innovations have been introduced to the field by nurses, simply because the advance makes their immediate jobs that much easier.
At Popper and Company, we seek out engineers, scientists and other innovators who have great ideas, or a great clinical application for an idea. While we will first examine the innovation’s utility (will it work?), we then need to see if the innovation will be adopted and to develop solutions for potential obstacles. Some older-generation leaders may automatically be suspicious of digital health and other technological innovations, for example. Still others have been frustrated with previous “advances” that didn’t deliver as promised or required hours of training. These issues have actually become more important for introducing and adoption of a new product or service than approval by the FDA.
How do we make these innovations more adoptable? One way is to take the example of Purell—find a non-health advance that can be applied to make healthcare easier (in other posts, we’ve discussed the idea of looking beyond the “usual suspects” for innovation strategy). Another is to draw everyone into the design and conceptualization process—start asking doctors, nurses, patients and other stakeholders what they’d like to see in tomorrow’s healthcare. That way, they won’t be as likely to wash their hands of your new business idea.
Our life sciences clients value our ability to find unusual technologies from the least likely sources, and match them to existing healthcare needs. We can help you create new strategies to help get your healthcare solution—and company—moving ahead on the commercialization (or clinical study) path. To learn more, please subscribe to our newsletter, follow us on Twitter, or send me an email.

Like this content? Don’t miss an update.

About the Author:

I have 20 years experience in clinical research, including leading diagnostic and pharmaceutical clinical studies in disease areas ranging from cancer to infectious disease to cardiology, diabetes, and autoimmune disorders. Send me an email.