Innovate May 2019

Intrapreneurship in Health Care


Written By: David Whitney

Helping fix what ails a vast and complex industry

Intrapreneurs can be stewards of change in the health care system. As change agents, intrapreneurs are tasked with enhancing the delivery and management of health care services while improving patient care by providing wider access to quality and affordability.

Even with its complexities, mountains of obstacles and mounting competition, health care’s path forward involves collaborating across the ecosystem. The health care ecosystem has an expansive reach, which is why collaborative intrapreneurial efforts – stretching across organizations – can represent a paradigm shift in health care’s future. The bolder organizations seize the opportunity to collaborate.

Innovators (pharmaceuticals) align next to industry regulators (Food and Drug Administration), with providers (doctors, medical groups and hospitals) squeezed beside payors (insurance companies); all living an uneasy co-existence.

This is where I believe intrapreneurship plays an outside role in health care. First, take the entrepreneurially minded individuals; they are the intrapreneurs who identify problems, propose solutions, test the hypotheses and either commercialize or kill what results.

This is why so many health care organizations harbor intrapreneurs. Almost all intrapreneurial projects need funding support and certainly all need leadership support.

But most of all, intrapreneurs need time to prove their theses and understanding on how to develop a proof of concept. Organizational support of intrapreneurship amounts to a leap of faith. And yet, that leap of faith is often well worth it because intrapreneurial innovations can generate commercial products and/or deliverable services that help organizations diversify, remain relevant, generate profits and be in a position to tackle some of the industry’s – and society’s –
toughest problems.

And why are intrapreneurs summoned to rescue what ails health care? Well, because problems need to be solved by problem-solvers. Yes, that’s an overly simplified answer, but consider that intrapreneurs – like most professionals – are tasked with finding solutions to identified, evidence-based problems.

Employees working inside organizations are usually in optimal positions to best understand how and why identified problems can
be solved in ways that benefit
their organization. These employees are also in a very good position to know what is needed – whether incremental improvements or disruptive innovations – and are feasible and possess commercial appeal.

For health care intrapreneurs to thrive and create impactful outcomes, intrapreneurship needs the support of leadership. Health care organizations that capitalize on intrapreneurship are usually more risk-tolerant than those that don’t; a risk-tolerant organizational culture more likely produces entrepreneurial-minded employees.

The best risk-tolerant health care organizations get out of the way of their intrapreneurial employees and allow them to identify problems, test solutions, commercialize innovations and build game-changing brands.

All health care organizations should ask themselves:

  • How could an inter-organization collaboration affect our existing operations – and influence our future business prospects?
  • How might those of us in our part of the health care ecosystem organize ourselves to better leverage collaborative innovation?
  • Is our organization – and the intrapreneurial efforts it supports – in a unique position to commercialize innovations directly?
  • Should the organization align with ecosystem “co-opetition” and commercialize it jointly with fellow health care companies?

The path forward is not always straight or short, so organizations capable of pivoting prove to be more flexible and agile when navigating the journey from concept to commercialization. More and more health care organizations ask all their employees what can be done today that positively impacts the way patients are
treated tomorrow.

Source: Health care Intrapreneurs:  Driving Organizational Innovation and Performance, USC Price, 2016.

Organizations using intrapreneurship to address those needs are better positioned to capitalize on health care’s quest to provide quality care at affordable prices.

Health care is filled with abundant head-spinning opportunities and heart-crushing challenges. By having intrapreneurship practiced internally, organizations seek to capitalize on health care’s opportunities while avoiding being crushed by health care’s challenges. I believe these are the health care organizations that solve the underlying tension between “what is” and “what could be” by commercializing innovative solutions for quality health care at affordable prices.  

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