By Judi Bobbitt, Judi Bobbitt Media Services
Len Kleine knows the value of a good idea.
In the multi-site Lakeridge Health Corporation, where Kleine is tasked with finding efficiencies and creating revenue as director of business development, ideas are so valued that an office of innovation has been created to encourage them from Lakeridge Health’s approximate 6,000 employees.
“Innovation is a new thing for us,” says Kleine, who also oversees the corporation’s leading-edge, $7-million LHEARN Centre (Lakeridge Health Education and Research Network). “We have defined innovation as anything that will improve or further help the process to benefit patient care.”
And there are a lot of patients.
In the course of a year, Kleine points out, 96,000 people will visit the emergency department of the Oshawa hospital, and another 60,000 will go through ER at the Ajax site, which has recently been added to the Lakeridge Health Corporation. It brings Lakeridge Health hospital sites to five: Oshawa, Ajax, Whitby, Bowmanville and Port Perry. There are another 20 clinics in Durham Region under the Lakeridge Health umbrella, and it makes the health care corporation one of the largest employers in Durham Region.
Lakeridge Health has had a business development office for five years, says Kleine, and with Ontario hospitals grappling with an aging population and fewer government funds, it’s commonplace now for hospitals to hire someone in his capacity. He is constantly examining how departments can operate more efficiently while ensuring staff and patient safety, negotiating leases and looking for the best deals, and finding creative revenue streams. “I do a lot of negotiating,” he acknowledges.
Advertising space is now sold on the gates of the Oshawa hospital parking garage, and patients waiting in the ER at the Oshawa site can watch CP24 on TV monitors, which include paid advertising spots, a revenue-generating initiative that was without cost to the hospital.
The latest initiative is an automated prescription medication dispenser kiosk, to be installed at the Oshawa hospital. A live Ontario pharmacist will appear on screen, talk to the patient, and fill the prescription. The kiosk will dispense the drugs, and the patient will pay with a credit card.
“I don’t understand the technology but I understand the efficiency of it,” says Kleine.
He estimates the business development office has brought Lakeridge Health between $4 million and $5 million in gross revenue, and has saved the health care corporation even more money indirectly.
The innovation office, launched with fanfare to the staff, includes members from various disciplines, including IT, communications, clinical and strategy. An internal website has been created where staff can submit ideas, and all employees are invited to contribute.
“It’s a hot-button issue,” says Kleine of the concept of innovation. “We’ve gone to great lengths to make sure everybody feels there’s no such thing as a stupid or irrelevant idea…if you ask three people what is innovation, you might get three different opinions.”
But everyone, he says, has ideas on how to improve their jobs, and those ideas can be simple and effective. Some nurses found it difficult to reach the top of an IV pole, so Lakeridge Health partnered with a company to create the Lakeridge IV pole, which can be lowered, raised and locked into place. Another simple innovation is a tennis ball on the end of a pole, used by cleaning staff to rub out scuff marks on the floor.
“It helps everybody in their job and makes everybody more efficient,” says Kleine of the innovation office.
Six or seven downtown Toronto hospitals take innovation seriously, he adds, and it’s important for Lakeridge Health staff to know they’re partnering in innovation with other Ontario health care providers. Ideas are shared among other hospitals, including Toronto General, Princess Margaret and Toronto Western, and might be adapted or improved upon further. “We’re a regional health care corporation, not a little hospital in the Shwa,” Kleine continues, adding Lakeridge Health attracts good staff and has working partnerships with post-secondary institutions that include Queen’s University, UOIT and Durham College.
Most hospitals today are focused on improving patient care, he says, and the innovation office motivates staff to share ideas on ways to achieve that.
“We have to become clever,” he says, noting the aging population and funding realities. “We need to be clever.”