Every year, IdeaScale hosts the Innovation Management Awards to award organizations who have demonstrated a level of sophistication in their innovation strategy that has had a measurable impact on their business. This year, one of our winners TriHealth in the category of Best Engagement Strategy for their ability to gain close to 100% participation and an almost parallel implementation rate with their Bright Ideas program. We took some time to interview Susan Holzmacher, Innovation Center Manager at TriHealth to learn more about their program and the best practices that they’ve developed.
To get us started, Susan, why don’t you tell us a little bit about TriHealth and also about why innovation is vital to your organization?
Well, TriHealth is one of the top integrated health systems in the greater Cincinnati area. We have over 12,000 team members. We’re the fourth largest employer in the city. In our system, we have six hospitals, 11 major ambulatory centers, and over 140 physician access points for patients. We have over 400 employed physicians and another 400 physicians who are aligned with and practice at TriHealth.
Innovation is extremely vital to our organization. I thought about this question, and the bottom line is innovation helps us meet our mission. And our mission here at TriHealth is to improve the health status of the people we serve.
We at TriHealth view innovation in three levels: there’s incremental innovation, substantial innovation, and transformational innovation. And we’re still in that first level – incremental innovation, which is very important. It’s basically many small, incremental changes or improvements by team members, that over time, result in a very large impact. It’s true: system-wide – a lot of small changes make a really big impact.
It has to do mostly with engagement though. We want to increase team member engagement – when team members submit their ideas and see them through implementation, they feel very engaged. They’re happier, they’re more fulfilled. They’ve been recognized for the work that they’re doing. And happy team members lead to an improved patient experience, and, ultimately, this will improve patient outcomes.
So you’ve already talked about how it starts with engagement and getting your entire workforce to be part of that incremental improvement. Can you introduce us to the Bright Ideas program and how that improves engagement and delivers on ideas?
So four years ago, our CEO, Mark Clement, started the Bright Ideas program. (He actually did a smaller version of this at the healthcare system he worked at prior). The first couple years the goals was to have every team member submit one idea. We called them “JDIs” (just do its) or “DIGs” (Do-it-groups – where you work with a small group to come up with your idea and implement it).
The first couple years we used this terminology and then the third and the fourth year, we moved to something called 1-Step and 2-Step ideas. Here’s what this means:
There are a lot of ideas that team members come up with and as they implement them, they say “Hey, you know what? That was a Bright Idea that I just implemented. I’m going to go ahead and get credit for it.” So they just go into the system and enter it once – that’s a 1-Step idea.
And then there are those ideas that team members come up with, but they need to consult with some other folks or they need to get approval from their manager. These are called 2-Step ideas. So in this case, they submit their idea into the IdeaScale system, (which we call Bright Ideas), their manager reviews it, they do some consultation, they talk about what barriers there are and ensure that it’s in-line with TriHealth goals. Then the team member gets approval and they implement their idea. Then they return (the second step) to the IdeaScale system and document how the implementation went and what the outcomes and benefits were from the idea.
Can you tell us a little bit about how you make sure that those ideas that come into the system are actionable?
Well we have a staff in the Innovation Center who helps team members with their ideas. We’ve also really worked with educating our department managers and team leaders – we taught them how to work with their team members to come up with bright ideas, how to overcome barriers, how to help implement ideas, and how to scale down the idea if needed. For most of our Bright Ideas, we’re looking for that incremental improvement. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just needs to be a little bit better.
Can you give us an example of some of the ideas that have come out of this program?
Sure. Well, most recently, many of them have been influenced by COVID. Some are very common sense. Some are a little more complex, but here’s an example: shoe mats for sanitation. So when team members come in and out of the hospital, there’s a mat that they walk on to help clean their shoes.
Reducing the number of people in the elevator to four people, maximum. So they have small stickers on the floor to make sure that everybody’s standing in the corners, another good safety idea.
Prospective parents that are going to be coming in to deliver their babies can’t do tours ahead of time anymore. So we created a virtual tour for them.
In the food and nutrition area, we’ve come up with all kinds of ideas: for example, disposable food trays for COVID patients, so they can be thrown away – right away.
A really cool thing over at Good Samaritan hospital: They actually created a TriHealth market. So when team members were working many hours, and didn’t have the time or feel safe stopping by the grocery store at the end of their shift, we had a little market in the hospital where we had eggs, milk, butter, etc so that they could stop there quickly before going home. The team members really loved this.
We had lots of ideas that saved us a lot of money. An example would be that (in the past) for every patient that’s identified as a fall risk, we would issue them a fall kit that includes a toilet alarm – but every single patient who is deemed a fall risk must be accompanied by a staff member for toileting. So it doesn’t make sense to have a toilet alarm in the fall kit because the patient is never toileting alone. They cost about $7 a piece – we purchased thousands of these. So someone’s Bright Idea was to not include these toilet alarms in the kits anymore. We don’t use them. We throw them away. And we saved thousands and thousands of dollars in a year’s time.
So common sense things like this are very impactful financially.
Another idea? When women come into the to the ER and they go to the bathroom to give a urine specimen – the idea was to have stickers in the specimen kit that would indicate domestic violence or sexual abuse. Now, if a patient is experiencing these issues and they are afraid to say anything. Or they’re afraid of the person who brought them in, they just put the sticker on the bottom of the urine specimen. Then when the nurse comes in to retrieve the urine specimen, they see the sticker and can handle the situation correctly.
Is there anybody else who like on your team or elsewhere makes it possible for these ideas to come through?
So a couple of areas come to mind: we partner with many of the other departments. For example, if there are ideas that come in involving marketing, we have a contact in marketing who helps team members work through their ideas. If it’s a finance question or something about purchasing, we have contacts in these areas.
We work very closely with our safety department. They review all of the ideas that are approved in the system and look for any kind of joint commission issue or regulatory issue that the team member might not be aware of.
We have great senior leadership support – our CEO actually initiated this program. They’ve allowed us to build a metric into our leadership evaluation manager (LEM) system: leaders have a goal to have 85% of their team members submit a Bright Idea that is approved by the end of the year. Their compensation is tied to the LEM. So this is a big motivator. So leadership has helped us to embed Bright Ideas into our culture. When it comes to team members, they have a goal to submit one Bright Idea per year, and this is tracked in their evaluation, which is also tied to their yearly pay increase.
But, you know, it’s the team members who just like being recognized for their creative ideas. Just the act of submitting the idea and taking credit for it. The work that they’ve done, is very satisfying and engaging for team members. Every single team member who implements an idea gets a thank you note from the Innovation Center. Team members seem to really appreciate this. We also give out over 50 Gold Shovel Ideation Awards and hundreds of Spotlight Recognitions each year to team members with outstanding bright ideas. Team members are usually very excited to receive these.
What is the most important piece of advice that you can give to someone who’s launching a crowdsourcing community?
You need to impact culture to build your innovation program. If the programs naturally embedded in your culture, it will be self-sustaining and long lasting. We needed a staff to roll-out the program to develop and manage it for the first couple of years. Then when our staff was decreased, we had to teach our leaders how to run the program within their own departments. And so that really helped us embed the program in the culture. I hear people saying “Oh, you should enter that as a Bright Idea” all the time.
We also established Innovation Champions this year. And so these are volunteers within our business units who promote the program and help team members come up with their ideas. They just spend a couple hours each month doing this. Having a lot of champions out there really helps.
Of what are you most proud in your innovation program?
So after four years we have over 50,000 Bright Ideas. That’s a huge milestone. It really proves that these small, incremental ideas have really helped TriHealth go from Good to GREAT and we’ve seen our team member engagement scores steadily go up. This means we have happier team members, which makes for a better experience for patients and their families, and improved outcomes, which aligns right with our mission.
We also have team members capture outcomes – report on the tangible and intangible benefits of each idea. We ask questions of team members: how much time did this save? What supplies did this save? What was the positive that came out of this idea? And then we help them quantify this into a dollar amount and use this to help calculate the net value of their Bright Idea.
So long story short, I’m looking at three years of data: we’ve had 35,000 Bright Ideas. 27,000 of those were approved. 15,000 were implemented. We’ve captured outcomes on almost 15,000. The average net value of a completed idea is about $1,500.
You extrapolate this out – it’s about $22 million in program value over three years, which is fantastic. Our senior leaders love to hear these numbers every year. They’re like, “Wow. Even if it’s self-reported (and we are checking for reasonableness). and even if only a percentage of this is an actual hard ROI, this is awesome!”. Well worth the amount of effort that we’ve put into this program.
Oh, and just one last thing on this! Team members also let us know what the intangible benefits are of their ideas – like is it a quality improvement? Is it a safety improvement? Did it improve the experience for physicians, for team members, for patients, for family members? For example, 26% of all ideas that have been submitted in the first three years had something to do with improving safety. And that’s awesome because safety is a huge priority for TriHealth.