This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab
Several years ago, I was given the challenge to turn what had been a long-standing in-patient hospital into an ambulatory hospital with day surgery procedures only. We managed to take complex surgical procedures – where patients would normally stay an average of 7.2 days – and send them home in less than 24 hours, which we knew was making patients safer, making patients happier and saving the healthcare system money by reducing hospital length of stay.
However, we soon realized that we knew nothing about patient recovery and satisfaction once discharged. Also, complications developing at home could lead to re-admissions, which are extremely expensive. In my role as chief of surgery, I felt it was an opportunity to help solve this issue not only for my own organization but for the others that were undergoing similar transformations.
Along with Chancellor Crawford, who had just sold his previous technology company, we formed a company called QoC Health. While the original idea was to use text messages to improve post-surgical recovery, we actually built a flexible technology platform that would use smartphones (not the standard at that time) to tackle post-surgical recovery plus many others, including mental health, chronic conditions, and women's health. This company has now won several major awards and the technology is being used by major healthcare organizations in Canada and beyond.
When I reflect on QoC Health's journey to date, our ability to truly innovate and not just solve the immediate problem was a direct result of several key factors:
Know what you don't know; listen to those who know
Although QoC Health's clients are healthcare organizations, we know that the success of our company rests on strong approval by and value to patients. Surgeons or doctors are often taught that they know what is best for patients but often know little about what patients actually go through. As such, we were one of the first companies to develop patient co-designed products.
We also knew that we would be more successful if we not only benefited our clients and patients but also to the health system and society as a whole. But we had no idea how to ensure that we did that, so we looked to B Lab, an organization focused on helping organizations build sustainability through positive social impact. It provided strong guidance to help our company adopt best-in-class practices in social impact, governance, employees, and environment. In doing so, we became B Corp Certified, which is like fair trade but for a company rather than just a product.
Diversity is key
One of the strengths of QoC Health is its diverse team, not only in the traditional sense but also in terms of perspective. It would have been too easy to just hire a team of software developers and have them build the product I had in my mind. Instead, we are fortunate to have a team of superstar talent from the healthcare system, government, technology, and none of the above. Bringing together these different personalities with a common goal is almost like a chemistry equation, but doing so has allowed us to think several steps ahead to pro-actively remove potential barriers before we encounter them.
Beyond having the diversity, it's important to use it. One way we have facilitated thoughtful communication of ideas is through regular "town hall" meetings where everyone attends and virtually every business detail is discussed. The agenda is largely driven by staff and everyone contributes to the discussions.
Don't be afraid to innovate
The final step is implement the innovative solutions that your team and your stakeholders need.
Sounds simple, right? But this is actually extremely difficult because there are so many pressures from clients and other stakeholders for quick fixes. For example, the temptation several years ago would have been to just develop a text messaging tool rather than taking the additional time and resourcing to build a platform to support emerging tools. And QoC Health is working on some solutions today that will solve problems our clients will face in several years.
Looking at QoC Health and our peers, I feel that what distinguishes innovative companies is their desire to listen carefully to diverse stakeholders, ability to identify pain points from "wants", and the fortitude to solve them.
John Semple is a co-founder of QoC Health and chief of surgery at Women's College Hospital in Toronto.