Last week I participated in a “National Bloggers Panel” at the National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference in Las Vegas. While the discussion was spirited and covered a number of issues, there was a moment of clarity provided for me by my friend, competitor and semi-professional SpongeBob impressionist Dave Depaolo. We were talking about innovation within the workers’ compensation industry, and David mentioned the importance of communication within workers’ compensation (I am paraphrasing here, because frankly my note taking skills are poor and the entire reception filled week is a bit fuzzy). He stated, essentially, that he believes processes and products should be geared to improving communication to be truly considered innovative.

While I might expand my definition a bit beyond that, I cannot argue with his logic.

Anybody can claim to have an innovative new product, process or procedure that will improve workers’ comp, lower costs, cure cancer, save the world or let us use the web to quickly and conveniently buy health insurance, but the truth is that many of these claims are not accurate or relevant. Some of these new “innovative” items simply serve to lengthen process, increase complexity and fail to produce the outcomes originally intended. The harsh reality is that the only innovations some of these new products produce are new and efficient ways to enrich their creators.

There must be a value equation associated with new ideas for them to be considered truly innovative. We need to be able to look at a concept and see its impact on the final result – the end game, rather than at some mid-point along the way. Producing a process that saves money without altering the outcome is good, but not always worthy of an innovative designation; while something that improves outcomes without increasing costs likely would be. The point here is that the true value of innovation lies in the outcome, not the process.

And we cannot get to an improved outcome without dramatically improved communication.

I have spent a fair amount of time this past year both in my blog and in presentations around the country discussing how our communication failures can inhibit positive outcomes in workers’ compensation cases. To that end, I agree with Depaolo that innovation is inextricably linked to facilitating better information to critical parties in the process. And communication can exist in many forms.

Medical video calls providing greater access to remote locations, improved orientation letters to the newly injured, and “cloud based” forms auto-population ensuring timeliness and accuracy are all innovative ways of improving communication that can lead to improved outcomes (ok, we created the last one. It’s a cheap plug, so sue me). Simply stated, most truly revolutionary products are those that facilitate the improved distribution of information – i.e., communication.

Innovation must carry a commensurate value equation to justify that designation. Simply calling something “innovative” does not make it so. Depaolo was right. Communication, in any of multiple forms, is the key parameter we must apply in order to determine true value for the claim of innovation. 

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