'Incremental innovation' may increase value, growth for radiology practices

As medical imaging continues amid technology advancements and developing research, Geoffrey Rubin, MD, MBA, professor of radiology at Duke University, and Richard Abramson, MD, associate professor of radiology at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, explained in an editorial published July 3 in Radiology how incremental innovation may add substantial value and growth to radiology practices.  

"While we must all prepare ourselves for a future shaped by novel technologies in a rapidly evolving marketplace, radiologists must not allow themselves to be blinded by distant headlights at the expense of missed near-term opportunities; innovation is a tool for both great leaps and incremental steps," Rubin and Abramson wrote. "It is particularly important not to ignore the incremental opportunities to strengthen our practices and improve their position within larger health care delivery systems to help weather what- ever disruptions the future might bring. 

The authors described incremental innovation as the following: "making improvements of additions to an organization while maintaining an organization's core product or service model"—and, according to Rubin and Abramson, is achievable for any sized radiology practice and key to maintaining competitive advantage amongst other practices. 

For radiology practices to achieve such incremental innovation, the authors explained three fundamental "enablers" must be addressed: culture, structure and process to implement new ideas.  

"These three fundamental enablers give rise to the norms, governance, and management elements that drive day-to-day decision making as well as long-term strategic planning," the authors wrote. "All three enablers present unique opportunities and barriers that must be addressed to achieve an environment primed for innovation."


According to Rubin and Abramson, a successful innovation culture within a radiology practice fosters the ability to import and exploit external knowledge, or “adaptive capacity.”

"One of the strongest predictors of absorptive capacity is the ability to transfer knowledge from prior and ongoing learning activities," the authors wrote. "It should be noted, however, that achieving absorptive capacity at an organizational level requires more than simply aggregating individuals with high absorptive capacity–it also requires elements that promote assimilation, dissemination, and exploitation of outside knowledge.”

An incrementally innovative culture also encourages creativity from all levels in the radiology practice, exemplifies sensitivity in the face of change, cultivates a positive perceptual bias toward organizational threats and builds tolerance for risk and uncertainty, according to the authors. 

"Nurturing a learning culture that embraces change and establishing formal organizational structures and processes for innovation are key to creating an environment where value-maximizing strategies are identified and the best ideas captured," the authors wrote.


Resources for innovation planning, flexible and organic team structures, strong centralized governance models, robust communication and organizational incentives that encourage the exploration of new concepts make up the structural elements radiology practices should pursue as other companies would for incremental innovation. 

"Innovative organizations set themselves up for success by proactively establishing the structural elements to support the innovation process and overcome common barriers," according to the authors. 


For a radiology practice to ultimately accomplish incremental innovation, the process itself should include the following, according to Rubin and Abramson:  

  • Environmental scanning.
  • Strategic and scenario planning.
  • Use of an objectively gated system for testing and filtering new ideas.
  • Use of an implementation approach emphasizing empowerment of project managers, removal of barriers and proactive communication.   

Additionally, radiology practices within larger healthcare delivery organizations should assess where they it stands in relation to parent organization's priorities and those of stakeholders, patients, families, referring physicians, payers, and hospital administrators.