Lately, “innovation” is the buzz word that I am hearing most often at conferences and briefings and reading in medical journals. But what counts as innovation in primary care, and how can physicians and patients quickly distinguish true practice-changers from temporary fads? At a conference I attended last year, Ray Rosin, Chief Innovation Officer at Penn Medicine, described three techniques that can be used to rapidly test promising innovations:
Vapor tests, which help innovators determine the demand for a service or program without needing to build the service or program first.
Fake front ends, which "make ideas tangible to help answer the question 'What will people do with it?'"
Fake back ends, which allow "teams to quickly answer the question 'What happens if people actually use it?'"
Even though these techniques require relatively small investments in time and effort, primary care clinicians still need to know about promising innovations in order to test them. One good source for innovations to improve quality and reduce disparities is the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality's Health Care Innovations Exchange, a searchable database of case studies ("innovation profiles") submitted by health organizations across the nation. Over the past few months, I've also collected several primary care innovations for underserved populations from the new Annals of Family Medicine feature and various other sources.
1) Using QR codes to connect patients to health information - a rural family medicine clinic in Iowa displays QR codes in its waiting room and other areas that, when scanned by a reader on a smartphone or tablet, load general patient education resources or materials related to the specific reason for the patient's visit.
2) Engaging complex patients with drop-in group medical appointments - a stabilizing program for uninsured, low-income patients with complex mental and physical health needs in North Carolina that over the past 6 years has reduced enrollees' hospital utilization by 50% at the cost of $100 per patient per month.
3) Fresh food by prescription - Central Pennsylvania's Geisinger Health system piloted a free, healthy "food pharmacy" for low-income patients with type 2 diabetes and their families on the grounds of one of its hospitals.
4) Telemedicine screening for diabetic retinopathy - Los Angeles County successfully implemented telemedicine screening in its safety net clinics, reducing the wait time for screening from 158 to 17 days and increasing the percentage of all eligible patients screened by more than 40%.
These innovations probably won't work in every underserved setting, but one or more could be worth a try in your clinic or health system, using one of Rosin's rapid-cycle techniques.