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The Innovative Spirit of Pediatric Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital

by Naomi Fried, Ph.D.

How can innovation be embedded into an organization’s culture? And can a single executive act as a catalyst?

These are questions that Naomi Fried thinks a lot about. Four years ago, Fried was hired as Boston Children’s Hospital’s first Chief Innovation Officer.

She created the Innovation Acceleration Program, which aims to transform the innovation culture at the hospital by identifying and catalyzing new opportunities, facilitating grassroots innovation, and supporting strategic initiatives at the institutional level.

My colleagues over on the Health Leadership Forum recently sat down with Fried to discuss the advantages and challenges of fostering innovation at a children’s hospital—and what other sectors of the industry can learn from pediatric innovation.

HEALTH LEADERSHIP FORUM: You have quite an intriguing title. Can you tell us about your responsibilities?

FRIED: My team and I are working to build a community of innovators at Boston Children’s. We host “innovation boot camps,” forums that feature internal innovators and external experts, and we have innovator-appreciation events. My department directly supports innovation through our “Innovestment” grant program where we award seed-grants for new ideas. We also have a “Fasttrack Innovation in Technology” (FIT) award where our in-house developers build and help pilot software and mobile apps for Boston Children’s clinicians.

Across the hospital, the old-fashioned grease-pencil whiteboard has been replaced with a custom-built digital smartboard that pulls real time data from our clinical systems. That was our very first FIT project and we have other successes as well. We are currently expanding deployment of a mobile app called “MyPassport” that allows admitted patients and their families to access lab results, to learn about who is on their care team (including photos), and to send messages to the care team. Patient, family and clinician feedback on this app has been tremendously positive and we are expanding our pilot.

HLF: Is the hope that you will build products that can then be commercialized?

FRIED: Our goal is to test and develop new ideas, operationalize the good ones, and bring them to scale within the hospital. Broader commercialization is a secondary benefit of our work. Where it makes sense we do it.

HLF: What are some of the advantages and challenges of fostering innovation in pediatric care?

FRIED: Kids are not small adults. They have different conditions and needs, and their bodies change and grow rapidly. They need specialized care which involves devices and treatments that must come in various sizes and are custom-designed for children. This presents a challenge for product development in pediatrics: the market is smaller than the adult market, yet diverse, with pediatrics including everything from premature infants, measured in ounces, to 21-year-olds. Because the market is both small and diverse, device manufacturers and other industry players are not always interested in investing in pediatric R&D.

But this same challenge has a benefit: the narrow patient population and the shortage of technology solutions inspire an entrepreneurial and innovative culture among clinicians themselves. Doctors and other clinicians know that there might not be anyone else working on the problems they care about, so they roll up their sleeves and take matters into their own hands and become innovators. Many have a “can-do” attitude toward solving problems around pediatric patient care.

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You can read the full interview on the Health Leadership Forum.

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