What Does Innovation Mean for the Foundation?

Posted by: Peter Long, Ph.D.

“Innovation” is an increasingly ubiquitous term in health care that can mean many things to different people and organizations. The current and continuing surge in health innovation reflects a hunger to see dramatic changes in the U.S. healthcare system, which still spends more money than any other nation and produces pedestrian health outcomes. As a foundation committed to improving access to effective and equitable care, we believe that innovative ideas are necessary catalysts for change - they encourage us to move beyond the status quo to eliminate wasteful and ineffective approaches, integrate disparate systems and services, and ultimately achieve better health for those most in need.

There is, however, a common misconception that innovation must always include technological advancement. In our experience, an innovative idea doesn’t have to involve a new application or internet platform. We’ve often found that the most transformational concepts are those that leverage basic and low-cost strategies that change the healthcare setting and the way care is delivered to produce better results with fewer resources. Examples include Foundation-funded initiatives such as team-based care, using text messages to communicate with patients, and leveraging promotoras and community health workers to extend services into homes and communities. None of these ideas involve the newest or latest technologies, but they do represent fundamentally different approaches to the provision of health care across California.

Working in the Bay Area, I’ve met many tech entrepreneurs pitching ideas that promise to improve care for patients who rely on our community health centers, public hospitals, and other safety providers. Many of them present incredibly elegant solutions with beautifully designed interfaces; and as stylish and sophisticated as they may be, they’re still entirely detached from the context of the healthcare system. Here in California, I’m grateful that there is such momentum, opportunity, and political and individual will to improve healthcare and the way we address and prevent domestic violence. Yet, in order to effectively harness the opportunities in front of us, innovation must also be coupled with cross-sector collaboration. By supporting a robust infrastructure to advance new, collective efforts and partnerships, we can create innovative solutions that deliver durable improvements in patient health and the well-being of survivors of domestic violence.

Over the past three years, the Foundation has joined and funded organizations that are building an ecosystem to support this type of innovation. For example, we are partnering with The California Endowment, Kaiser Permanente, and the state to launch the California Accountable Communities for Health Initiative, which will test population-level approaches to improve health. Later this month, we will announce six new grantees who will receive planning grants to begin this important and unprecedented work. In effort to drive innovation in the way we pay for primary care, the Foundation was an early supporter of the Prospective Payment System (PPS) Pilot for Federally Qualified Health Centers to reimburse and reward the value of care delivered instead of the volume of services provided. We also continue to make significant investments in the Center for Care Innovations (CCI) to seed, spark, and spread innovation in California’s healthcare safety net. In addition to targeted projects that promote patient engagement, telehealth, and team-based care, CCI provides vital framework and unique learning for the entire field.

Together with our partners and grantees, we have the potential to transform the systems that serve the individuals and families most in need, and improve our ability to adapt in a continuously changing environment. We are confident that our ongoing investments in innovative ideas, infrastructure, and collaboration will move us toward a vision of California in which there are healthier and more equitable communities, broader and more effective systems of support for domestic violence survivors, and higher-value health care for all.

In partnership,

Peter