Predicting the Future for Health Administrators

Benjamin Tingey, MHA is a healthcare intrepreneur and innovation strategist for Atrium Health, one of the nation’s most innovative healthcare organizations. He works in Atrium Health’s Innovation Engine, an internal innovation strategy and design consultancy that researches, tests, and develops new approaches in health services delivery and patient-centered care. A key part of his job involves producing podcasts.

“Here at Atrium Health, we are researching the tools and applying the skillsets that will be some of the transformative forces in healthcare and other industries in the coming decades,” Tingey says. He and his fellow innovators share their knowledge in their “A Sherpa's Guide to Innovation” podcast. Recent episodes have examined digital solutions to customize the patient experience, new on-demand and primary care services for non-consumers of healthcare, and what the team learned by attending the Mayo Clinic’s Transform 2018 Conference. The podcasts’ listeners span the globe, on every continent save Antarctica, “and we’re really just starting to put on steam,” Tingey says.

Click here for Tingey’s suggestions for podcast episodes on topics that he believes fellow MHAs inhabiting various healthcare niches will appreciate, as well as everything you need to know to listen to them (for free).

Tingey graduated at just the right time to find his opportunity in innovation management and followed a less-traveled path to get to where he is now. However, the role he now occupies is becoming more common at large health systems. He is currently working with Wayne Psek, MD of the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health’s Master of Health Administration (MHA) program to enhance the options for others who would like to follow suit.

Fortuitous timing and capitalizing on an opportunity
Atrium Health is a not-for-profit health system which operates hospitals, freestanding emergency departments, urgent care centers, and medical practices in North and South Carolina. Tingey began his association with Atrium Health in 2013, when it was still known as Carolinas HealthCare System, by doing his administrative fellowship there.

Back then, Tingey still expected to be a traditional healthcare administrator. But soon after he began his fellowship, Tingey was assigned to work on a project with members of the newly formed Innovation Engine. “I loved the way that they thought and the way that they worked,” he said. When he learned of an Innovation Engine opening in March 2017, he jumped on it.

Like his fellow innovators working at Atrium Health’s Charlotte, NC headquarters, Tingey spends a lot of his time researching innovative organizations of all sizes, forging partnerships with the best of them. He and his Innovation teammates regularly work with startup companies, commercialize new technologies, and develop the healthcare business models of the future. “We work at the front lines where we can see the impact of what we’re doing and how it is affecting people’s lives,” Tingey says.

Recently, Tingey and others in the Innovation Engine have begun putting on what they call "social innovation Jams" in partnership with the Charlotte YMCA. "A social innovation Jam is like a hackathon event but without the hacking," he explains. "In design thinking parlance we call them Design Sessions, but we used the word Jam to have it sound less corporate." The photo below shows an event that Tingey helped facilitate with residents of a local community called Druid Hills. "The residents co-created prototypes to address health issues that are important to them and their community. So rather than telling them what they should do, we are following a community-driven approach to problem solving. We acted as facilitators and guides, and the residents determined what they wanted to do and how to do it," he says. 

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Tingey facilitating a social innovation jam event in Charlotte, N.C.

The transformative tools of the future
Over the past 18 months, Tingey has taken a deep dive into what the Innovation Engine’s leadership believes will be the transformative tools of the coming decades. “We believe that innovation will usher in the next era of industry transformation, analogous to the total quality management movement that revolutionized Japan’s manufacturing industry following World War II and became a game-changer for many U.S. industries by the 1980s,” he says. He and his colleagues are well versed in tools including design thinking, disruptive innovation theory, Lean Startup, business model innovation, and Jobs to Be Done theory. Their applications in healthcare are the subjects of some of the most popular episodes of A Sherpa’s Guide to Innovation.

Experience design is another of the topics that the Innovation Engine tackles. This involves thinking about aspects of people’s encounters with healthcare, such as a family’s trip to the Pediatric Emergency Department, Tingey explains. “We think about how experiences can be optimized to focus on helping people achieve the progress they’re seeking, so it’s much more human-centered, rather than just creating an efficient process for the health system,” he says. Another focus is on social innovation, which involves trying to impact the social determinants of health, such as affordable housing, food deserts, culturally competent care, and clusters of chronic illnesses, by using innovation methods and tools.

All of this and much more is grist for the podcast episodes produced by Tingey’s group, which are designed to weave innovation concepts into conversations. “They are created so as to be practical and accessible and not heavily academic. Listening is a great way to learn new skills and enable people to see their businesses and industries in a different way. You can manage differently and stay fresh with new ideas to make a unique impact at work,” Tingey says.

While the podcasts started out as a creative outlet for Tingey’s team, they have evolved into something a lot bigger. “We’re now bringing in experts with a national presence,” he says.  

GW prepares MHAs to be innovators
Tingey believes that GW’s MHA program produces administrators who have the right experiences and mindsets to be aware of and open to disruptive change that helps move the field forward. “Innovation involves change management, and Washington, DC is a city accustomed to change,” Tingey says. “Presidents come and go every four or eight years. New laws are passed all the time that can have profound effects across many industries all over the world. GW has top-notch professors who teach us well about managing change and mitigating risk, another aspect of managing innovation.”

“I began my studies when the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was just starting to be implemented,” Tingey adds. “From the outset, the Department of Health Policy and Management’s professors were very knowledgeable about the changes that would be needed in the industry to make value-based care a reality.”

GW’s MHA program has options for students who are interested in healthcare innovation, Dr. Psek says. They include the Social Impact Startup Creation Using Design Thinking (SEAS 6800) class taught by Pierre N.D. Vigilance, MD, MPH, the Milken Institute SPH’s Associate Dean of Public Health Practice.

“When MHA students express interest in healthcare innovation, we are able to find opportunities for them both within GW and through the courses offered by the 10 institutions in our consortium, including American University, Georgetown and the University of Maryland. We can also guide students to options like the Summer of Design course, which has been held at GW in partnership with DT:DC (Design Thinking DC),” says Dr. Psek. He is working with Tingey and other experts to expand those options further.

Learn more through A Sherpa’s Guide to Innovation
If you would like to learn more about innovation in healthcare, Tingey recommends tuning in to A Sherpa’s Guide to Innovation as a free and easy way to see if it resonates with you. “We think that a lot of the ideas we present will challenge some of the status quo thinking in healthcare. It’s not business as usual. It’s learning how to think and act in a different way using tools that might produce different outcomes than what people are accustomed to. We believe all of those things are needed for the healthcare industry as a whole to adapt and evolve. Because it needs to.”