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Keeping the fire burning – how to create and sustain a culture of innovation

By Alida Rossi, Director of Customer Excellence at AbbVie Australia

What do you think of when you consider innovation? I feel that the word has almost faded into “buzzword” obscurity and became synonymous with a group of 20-somethings sitting on beanbags, brainstorming with Post-It notes and mind mapping on a whiteboard.

Let me tell you – that certainly isn’t the case.

Innovation isn’t just a buzzword

Innovation isn’t meant to be a big mystery – or confined to an office with nap pods, propeller caps and a ping pong table. Last year certainly proved that.  However, for many people, innovation is just another corporate buzzword with no real meaning or application.

I almost felt like an imposter when I was asked to lead my team in creating a culture of innovation. That was almost eight years ago and it’s been an incredible journey – one that has me learning to this day. 

The discovery process led us to a simple guiding definition when it comes to all things ‘innovation’. Innovation is making a change that creates some kind of value. For us, we’re focused on delivering value to our colleagues, healthcare practitioners and – most importantly – our patients.

Curiosity is key

Too often, people jump straight from the problem phase to the solution phase, not taking the time to understand why they are facing a roadblock. I often ask myself, how are we supposed to be designing services for patients if we don’t truly understand the heart of the issue?

This is where curiosity comes into the picture. Having a curious mindset means you’re asking questions, interviewing stakeholders, holding workshops and otherwise getting out there to understand the root cause of a problem.

The more you do this, the more likely you are to have that “ah-ha!” moment that could potentially lead to truly beneficial, meaningful change. Over the last 18 months at AbbVie, we’ve been able to deliver an exciting (and award winning!) project that does just that – delivers value and elevates access for patients.

How a simple QR code changed the story for patients

Medicines Australia received a letter from a woman who was discharged from hospital with a number of medicines and was confused about what they were for and how to take them. In sharing her story, her request was simple: encourage pharmaceutical companies to create easier access to Consumer Medicines Information (CMI).

We were determined to rise to the challenge. I was fortunate enough to collaborate with this team through the process of innovation. 

Firstly, we had to define the problem. The CMI is an important guide that helps Australians understand how to safely use their medicine and its possible side effects. However, patients don’t always receive the document when their medication is dispensed, leaving them to search the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) website or without access to crucial health information.

Using the AbbVie innovation framework, we hosted workshops with the TGA, Medicines Australia, industry partners, patient organisations and other experts to develop and deliver a solution that would help ensure safe and quality use of our medicines.

The solution? We’ve added QR codes to our medicine packaging to ensure patients are always able to access essential health information and other educational resources, like how-to videos and enrolment for patient support programs.

Having access to information on-demand is empowering for patients. With location check-ins using QR codes becoming part of the new normal in 2021, most Australians are now familiar with the technology and anyone with a smartphone can quickly learn.

You’ve got to keep the fire burning

If you’re planning to commit to a culture of innovation, you really have to be ready to commit for the long-term. As soon as you take your foot off the pedal, it’s incredibly easy to go back to business as usual and slip out of innovative habits.

Ultimately, innovation is not just about thinking of an idea and testing it. Innovation is having a strategy that looks at where the company is headed, what challenges you might face and thinking about how you can create value for patients, little-by-little, every day.