“I joined Cardinal Health because I felt I could make a real difference here, for our customers and their patients,” said Philip Parks, M.D., M.P.H., vice president of healthcare innovation at Cardinal Health at-Home Solutions, a market-leading medical supplies provider, manufacturer and distributor that helps patients take care of their health conditions in their home.
Parks, a board-certified physician, business leader and innovator, and U.S. Navy veteran comes to Cardinal Health with more than two decades of clinical and industry experience, more than 10 years as a visiting scientist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health – and a lifelong commitment to improving health outcomes.
“There is a solid foundation of entrepreneurial thinking throughout Cardinal Health,” he said. “There’s also a growing openness here to approach intrapreneurship and innovation differently, to understand unmet needs and drive toward better health care products, services, solutions and outcomes.”
Parks leads an innovation team within the at-Home Solutions business that works collaboratively with “an army of people inside the company as well as with partners outside of Cardinal Health – at the stages of new business and product ideation, concept, development, pilot and commercialization,” he said. Depending on the innovation initiative and its stage of product development, the team may work with Fuse (Cardinal Health’s innovation and growth engine), enterprise information technology teams, corporate strategy teams, business unit leaders, the Government Relations team, and/or external partners to bring strategy to life.
“Working collaboratively across functions helps us to identify what our patients’ and customers’ pain points are, and figure out ways to resolve them,” Parks said. “That relentless focus on customers and unmet needs is what inspires new ideas and innovation.”
Working cross-functionally also ensures a diversity of experiences and perspectives. “Innovation relies as much on the power of diversity and inclusion as on technical expertise,” Parks said. “We need diversity in race, gender, experience, thinking and expertise. It’s that diversity that helps us to see around corners and have the best chances of success.”
Setting a strategic framework for growth: at-Home Solutions innovation
Innovation initiatives for the at-Home Solutions business are focused on one or more of the business’ four strategic growth pillars – and, most importantly, on addressing unmet patient or customer needs, Parks said. “The strategic framework provides focus and discipline, and the obsession on customer and patient needs ensures that we’re working on the most important challenges.”
This strategic framework includes providing medical products and supplies to the home; integrating pharmacy offerings with medical supplies to create a one-stop shopping experience for patients; expanding at-home hospice care to allow patients to age in place with high-quality end-of-life care; and enabling the hospital-at-home emerging market.
All of these require new approaches and flexing the “muscles of innovation,” from rethinking and reimagining the supply chain and ensuring safe, transparent shipments of medications and medical devices to patients’ homes, to tech-enabled services and communications that link the hospital, primary care physicians, nurses and patients.
The fourth pillar, enabling hospital care at home, is fundamental to the growth of the at-Home business, the growth of other Cardinal Health businesses, and to the future of how health care is experienced, Parks said. “Hospital-level care delivered to patients in their homes can improve patient experience, lead to better health outcomes and lower the cost of care,” he explained.
Enabling and enhancing hospital care at home
The U.S. hospital at home movement began in the 1990s at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland; a pilot study published in 1999 by Dr. Bruce Leff and colleagues demonstrated that a home hospital program was safe, feasible, highly satisfactory and cost effective for certain acutely ill older persons. A 2000-2002 National Demonstration and Evaluation Study showed the safety and quality of the model, with a shorter average length of stay, one-third lower costs, higher levels of patient satisfaction and a faster return to functional activities compared with in-patient hospitalizations. But the concept didn’t gain much traction or adoption – until the COVID-19 pandemic put such tremendous strains on hospitals and global health systems.
Even before the pandemic, though, the team at Cardinal Health believed that hospital at-home was a growing and important concept in support of decentralized and equitable health care. “We had strong beliefs it would take off; we wanted to ensure that we would be able to provide the tech-enabled supply chain services to support it,” Parks said. That’s why, in 2019, Cardinal Health made an early investment in Medically Home, a technology company that collaborates with health systems, payors and providers to deliver safe, high quality acute care at home.
By early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic began driving an enormous shift in how the country views health care, Parks said. “Suddenly, hospitals were at capacity; emergency rooms were full. Out of necessity, and supported by reimbursement through the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), some ‘early adopter’ health systems began embracing at-home care, which freed up hospital beds for those patients who truly needed them.” The shift to at-home care came with additional benefits: Hospital care in the home has been shown to be 38% lower compared with in-hospital care, and also gives providers insight into lifestyle issues and social determinants of health that can affect health and well-being, like medication nonadherence, health literacy access to healthy food options.
Throughout the pandemic, Cardinal Health has helped support health systems and payors as they transition to providing more care to more patients at home. In January 2022, the company made a second strategic investment in Medically Home, furthering our commitment to expanding access to safe and effective hospital-level advanced care at home. By working with partners like Medically Home, we can develop and commercialize the managed services and technology needed to orchestrate advanced hospital care in the home, so that even patients with challenging medical conditions and significant, unpredictable needs can have access to high-quality, safe, high-acuity care in the comfort of their home.
As the at-Home innovation and corporate strategy teams continue to advocate more virtual care and more at-home care, they are tirelessly focused on innovation, “which is fun and rewarding, but not always as exciting as it sounds,” Parks noted. “Being an innovator often looks and feels very different than the aspirational words typically used to describe it. Innovation typically isn’t predictable or linear; it’s a creative, messy process with lots of zigs and zags. Some ideas make it through to commercialization and others don’t. Innovators are told ‘no’ a lot – and sometimes it feels like we’re pushing boulders up a mountain.”
Above: The innovation process, illustrated.
At the core of the innovation process are design thinking, lean innovation and agile development. Innovation requires a mix of patience, a sense of urgency and empathy, Parks said. “We know that if we’re disciplined in our commitment to identify and solve the unmet needs of our customers, we’ll win. But whether a new idea is big or small, there will always be those who say it won’t work. In that case, one of the best questions we can ask is, ‘Why? What are the reasons we think this won’t work? What would have be to true for the idea to work?’ We also want to look at the risks of NOT pushing an innovation forward, because if the risk is significant, that’s a compelling argument for moving ahead.”
Often, Parks and the teams he works with acknowledge just how difficult it can be to innovate, he said. “But then we just break things down into smaller parts and start again. We rally the team and keep going. In the innovation process, the most important question is not necessarily whether we’ve succeeded or failed, but rather, have we taken a step toward solving the problem?
“Ultimately, we have an opportunity to make a meaningful difference for patients, and to fundamentally improve the way health care is delivered and experienced.”