A footnote in history has always fascinated me: The computer mouse was invented 10 years before the PC. However, without the PC, the mouse—though a new and unique device—was hardly noticed in the marketplace. The invention was all but ignored until a decade later when the PC made its way into our homes. Today you can hardly use a computer without a mouse or some derivation of the technology. It's an excellent example of the difference between invention and innovation, and a good parallel to healthcare reform.
Innovation is from the Latin "Novus" meaning new, to renew, or to create. What distinguishes an invention from an innovation, however, is when the idea or object becomes enmeshed in the marketplace and is successful. Say what you will about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, (often referred to as Healthcare Reform) but the creation and introduction of this legislation into healthcare was a starting point.
Now, if healthcare leaders can correctly implement it, it stands to revolutionize healthcare as we know it. Right now though, it is much like the mouse. It is waiting for the PC to move it beyond a starting point and into the revolutionary.
I was at the VHA Leadership Conference in San Diego last week and had the opportunity to speak with a variety of healthcare leaders ranging from chief financial officers to CEOs to chief nursing officers. The common thread in each of my conversations with these folks—aside from the lack of enthusiasm for the accountable care organization as CMS defines it—was the need for someone to offer a clear pathway for how to make healthcare outcomes and quality better (and do it in a financially viable manner).
I pressed these folks, asking, "Isn't that what Reform is trying to accomplish?" The resounding collective response seemed to be, "Yes, but the regs don't tell us how to do that; they only tell us the penalties for not doing it correctly."
The lack of a clear solution, or bundle of solutions, only adds to the sense of urgency healthcare leaders feel as the legislation continues to roll out new components. Dennis Dunn, Ph.D., and senior scientist at Thomson Reuters, spoke on insurance reform as part of Health Care Reform. Much of what he covered were data points on what is expected to transpire with the newly insured, and one of his statements struck me: