Two of the Greatest Barriers to Federal Health Innovation

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Change management and drawn-out acquisition processes pose substantial barriers to innovation within the government’s health sector, agency insiders said Wednesday.

Addressing attendees of ACT-IAC’s Health Innovation Day, representatives from across Defense, Veterans Affairs, and Health and Human Services departments laid out the hurdles agency officials are facing that keep innovative emerging technologies from being adopted as rapidly as possible.

Drew Myklegard, portfolio lead for Project Transition and VA Integration in the VA Center for Innovation, suggested that though the federal acquisition process may not be the most “sexy and exciting” realm of government, it should absolutely be modernized.

“If you’ve never sold for government before, it’s going to be a struggle,” Myklegard said. “But if you can’t get something purchased, the best solution in the world is just going to pass you by.”

Myklegard also explained that organizational change management—or the practice of equipping individuals with all they need to efficiently adapt to change—is a significant obstacle when executing new technologies.

“When it comes to implementation [the barrier] is organizational change management. We can’t get enough talent in fast enough that can deliver these solutions, we are always looking for talent. And we are looking for the culture to change even faster,” Myklegard said.

Readiness to accept change posed problems for everyone across the panel. Dominic Cussatt, principal deputy assistant secretary for IT and deputy chief information officer for the VA’s Office of Information and Technology, witnessed it firsthand as he spent the last decade attempting to help health professionals adapt to new information technologies in their environments.

“Clinicians are sort of crying right now, you know, ‘Nothing is the same today as it was yesterday when I try to go see the patient!’” Cussatt said. “And that’s a challenge.”

He also added that as an IT provisioner for his agency, he’s come to realize that the government has to deal with issues around change management not only for health professionals but also for customers and patients, particularly when introducing innovative agile approaches to new technology.

“We’re grappling with how to get our customers up to speed,” Cussatt said.

Terry Adirim, who serves as the deputy assistant secretary of Defense for health services policy and oversight, reiterated how slow acquisition and poor change management can gum up innovative projects.

“It’s really tough because when you’re implementing a new electronic health record, you’re telling practitioners and physicians to practice differently, and that I think for us has been a really tough thing,” she said.

However, Adirim said he also hopes to turn the hindrances into something positive for technicians, clinicians and customers.

“I see them as opportunities, though they do seem like barriers,” she said.