North Shore-LIJ

Thomas Thornton, North Shore-LIJ Health System

Thomas Thornton

Innovation Opportunities

Editors’ Note

In this role, Thomas Thornton manages all of North Shore-LIJ’s innovation programs, including technology commercialization, enterprise growth, and investment management. Prior to joining North Shore-LIJ, he led the Healthcare Innovation Alliance at Cleveland Clinic Innovations, a program aimed at forming multi-institutional collaborations to foster and accelerate the commercialization of medical innovations.

How critical is the focus on innovation for North Shore-LIJ and what is your role in that area?

It’s essential. North Shore-LIJ is a culture of tinkerers, which has been extraordinarily important to its success, certainly given the complexities of healthcare going forward.

Innovation is defined broadly here, so it could be represented by a practice improvement, a process improvement, a new medical device, or an entirely new business.

Every Monday, Mike Dowling (President and CEO) participates in the health system’s orientation session called Beginnings, in which every new employee must take part. He talks about North Shore-LIJ’s culture, emphasizing the importance of innovation, and why it’s important and where it’s going to take us.

He also describes it as a personal activity where, when everyone is open to new ideas, there is a magic to it over a period of time. Innovation has been encouraged to the extent that it is now part of North Shore-LIJ’s culture. Innovation is recognized and rewarded; and it’s going to be a significant part of our growth going forward.

Are the opportunities that innovation provides a natural extension from the traditional model?

We have existing, world-class capabilities that are very mature, so new ones are a logical extension of what we’ve already been doing.

To some extent, it’s the way we do things and the means behind the outcomes we’ve achieved. In some cases, we’re thinking about taking those capabilities and forming new companies around them.

There are areas in healthcare that are so new that it is advantageous to get into joint ventures to help us understand what those businesses might mean to us in the future.

Much of what we’re doing is an “opportunity assessment” of areas that aren’t near term or adjacent to our existing and core business model. Ultimately, we’re getting into those relationships through some sort of joint venture with another organization that is skilled in a particular area.

As a system like North Shore-LIJ grows, does it get harder to maintain the innovative edge?

It comes down to maintaining a culture where innovation matters while trying to be a bit more structured around it.

We examine ideas that enable our growth and enhance the structure around our current core capabilities. We take advantage of many opportunities that we believe will be fundamentally essential to the healthcare system of the future.

When we structure things this way, it becomes a lot easier to identify and evaluate the big innovation opportunities that are really going to change the system.

Our nimbleness as an exceptionally large organization makes us powerful, and what makes us flexible is we can very quickly identify what we think will be important. We do that by engaging our employees, but also by having a clear understanding of strategy. This allows us to be more successful than most.•