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Innovation Feature: What to consider, how to foster innovation and how to expose opportunities

In part one of our innovation feature, we speak with Oliver O’Connor, Chief Product Officer at Perfect Ward.

We discuss what factors are important to consider when bringing an innovation to market, how to foster innovation and how to expose opportunities.

HTN asked Oliver a few questions…

Could you take me through some innovations that you are currently working on?

Our innovations focus on a simple philosophy of ‘giving time back to patient care’.

We recognised five years ago that clinical staff were using pen and paper to conduct quality audits and safety inspections; this process was cumbersome and limited with delayed collation in trying to build a picture of quality. Ultimately, audits and inspections take time away from patient care.

Our work has focused on innovating in this area, reducing the amount of time required in conducting audits and making sure we are simplifying the process, whilst making it more engaging. However, we recognised it means our customers can have quality information in real time so they can focus on issues in the present and not those issues that have already occurred in the past.

Fundamentally, the purpose of our product is to enable healthcare organisations to perform quality audits and inspections of areas, functions, and processes within the organisation; and doing this on mobile or handheld devices.

Customers can then analyse how they are performing in certain areas so they can subsequently adjust a process in order to continually improve. For example, this could be in areas such as patient hydration, cleaning, medication, infection prevention and control, falls, medicines management, maternity care and so on.

Exposing real-time opportunities for improvement

We want to bring digital healthcare quality improvement to market and find where people are doing things right. There are issues to uncover, problems to solve but there is also value to recognising expertise and brilliance. When I think about where we want to be five years from now, the identification of excellence is really important.

We also want to deliver insight; when data is inputted into our system, we can bring meaning to that information – we want to make information really understandable and useable by everyone, from junior healthcare assistants to the CEO, and this is one of our mantras – ‘insight at our fingertips’.

Something that we are working on now is tying inspections more closely into improvement plans; creating handoffs and workflows in the system that takes users through the process of identifying issues and making realistic lasting improvements. Another core focus right now is extending our web portal so that information is available at the user’s fingertips wherever they are.

Also, at the beginning of the first lockdown, we created a COVID-specific inspection and that took off hugely; there were many organisations who decided to use it and we released this free of charge. We released the product to state that this is the type of innovation that really drives us – it is identifying a problem we can solve, and solving it quickly and easily in a targeted way.

How do you involve those who may not be as digitally literate through this innovation of moving away from pen and paper inspections?

For a system such as ours, we need to make it simple to use and this is a big focus for us; there is a certain discipline required in achieving simple usability which I do think we have got right. Simplicity and usability are key, as well as ensuring co-design principles and that there is a feedback loop in place. Taking this approach means the adoption of Perfect Ward becomes much easier.  One of our most recent customers implemented phase one in just eight weeks and it was during the pandemic. Return rates for audits have risen dramatically to 97% from 25% prior to the mobile system being introduced.

How do you foster innovation as a business?

There are three key ingredients: firstly, open lines of communication with our users – we need the insight they give to understand the problems they face.

Secondly, open lines of communication within the company – this is often what I see companies get wrong – essentially all teams within a company need to get the information from and to customers flowing.

Thirdly, exploration and experimentation; trying things out – you cannot innovate without failing. That of course brings with it a certain cost, where experimentation inevitably does become expensive, and so if you’re going to fail, fail fast and cheaply; build upon the good ideas and move on from the not so good ones.

We are soon launching an Innovation Lab and our plan is to have a group which is dedicated to that programme, experimenting and building prototypes and asking customers what does and doesn’t work before we go ahead into the cutting code phase.

To foster innovation, you need to give staff ownership of things. This doesn’t mean as leaders we stand back and watch, staff still need direction, but we want our staff to pour their passion and skill into projects and we as leaders need to provide them the tools to do it.

What’s important to consider when bringing an innovation to market?

Communication is an important aspect – be open to suggestion and not too defensive of the product you’ve created, embrace opportunity to improve and provide a better solution. You can’t be too proud of what you’ve created as chances are there will be flaws somewhere. Communication is twofold: firstly, it is about research prior to release in order to understand what is required – this is where the Innovation Lab comes in.

Secondly, it is about not making the mistake of trying to focus on making something perfect right from the start – in the real world, we know that perfection does not exist – it is the process of getting there that makes a difference. When we bring new products to market, we build a slick, simple, easy to use, contained function and we expect and encourage feedback.

It is about developing a product and then optimising it through gathering feedback. We recognise that for many this maybe their first step into the digital world, so we work on the basis of evolution not revolution.

What’s coming up next for Perfect Ward?

We really want to continue the journey that was started five years ago, and the next step is fundamentally turning data into insight and putting that data and insight at the fingertips of our users. At every stage of the process, we want our users to have access to the information that helps them understand the environment they are working within. Information, knowledge and understanding is intrinsically empowering.

In terms of technology, we want to focus on an infrastructure independent deployment model to launch new ideas smoothly and quickly, which also enables us to be more agile when it comes to shifting regulations.

In terms of the team, we are always looking to recruit exceptional individuals into Perfect Ward. It is fundamental for our product innovation to attract the best talent right across our Product and Engineering teams; it ensures that we remain at the forefront of technology. In fact, we are actively recruiting right now for various roles across this whole workstream – product management, UI/UX, backend, mobile and web development, QA and are very interested in hearing from talented people who would like to be part of creating excellence.