Published 25 July 2019

The Collaboration We Need in Healthcare

I believe that at its best, the health sector has a culture in which helping people live more joyful lives and thrive in healthy communities is far more important than any other business incentive. Over time, I’ve realized that collaboration across organizations, across departments, and across initiatives isn’t the status quo. With mainstream healthcare, we often try to solve problems in silos. Last month, I attended the Innovation Learning Network (ILN) InPerson Meetup. It reminded me of the potential for impact we have when we prioritize authentic relationships and focus on communities’ needs.

A Learning Network Within Healthcare

ILN is a community of healthcare innovators and designers working to foster collaboration and coopetition. They host an annual multi-day meeting that convenes innovators across the globe – but don’t call it a conference. You won’t find people anxiously handing out business cards or crowds forming around a speaker panel once it ends. You are more likely to find people taking a stroll around the block with new friends, and folks sharing design techniques while teaming up to address a real-time healthcare challenge.

A group of six ILN attendees meet together around a table.

The theme at ILN this year was “Pivot!”, focusing on moments when we face challenges in our innovation journeys, and embrace the need to adapt (and sometimes change) directions. Leaning into vulnerability is not out of the ordinary for ILN. Last year’s theme was “The Cultivation of Failure.”

During the two days, we heard how the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs pivoted from depending on extended hospital stays and opioid prescriptions to immersive, digital solutions. Kaiser Permanente shared some of their early stage pivots as a large health system learning to adapt to the growing expectations of a faster, more convenient health ecosystem. I was also fortunate enough to present Exygy’s experience navigating organizational pivots in order to build stronger cultures of innovation for our clients.

Eric Lam presents at ILN in front of a room of healthcare innovators.

Out of the Ordinary Connections

In addition to curating sincere and inspiring talks, I find ILN’s signature quality is their ability to create intimate social settings that allow attendees to build lasting relationships. This year, we gathered in Portland, OR. ILN thoughtfully organized a uniquely Portland experience. On the first day, they hosted intimate dinners in groups of 3-5 people, featuring local restaurants across the city. The next evening, ILN organized a special visit to see the home-town, world champion roller derby team: the Rose City Rollers!

The Rose City Rollers

These environments allowed us to share a unique experience and lay the foundation to engage in deeper, more collaborative conversations about important topics we’re working on. For instance, I was able to connect with Atrium Health’s Innovation team over our work in affordable housing, all while we enjoyed lunch in the middle of the beautiful World Forestry Center. Atrium expressed their commitment to invest in affordable housing from a Provider perspective, and I was able to share our experience working with civic agencies and community-based organized to make affordable housing more accessible.

I’m convinced that the genuine exchanges and knowledge sharing that ILN curates is key to our ability to collectively improve communities’ health outcomes. When people have their guard down, it creates more space for collaboration, vulnerability, failure, and ultimately, new ideas – which so many other traditional conferences and events fail to facilitate.

This approach works particularly well for folks working within the health sector. We increasingly understand that people’s health does not live in a silo, and is impacted by various social determinants; Payers are now more involved in housing, transportation, environmental initiatives, etc. For us to have any chance at improving the healthcare system at large, we need to take a holistic approach – creating more spaces that breakdown our siloed walls, and encourage us to work together.

ILN participants dancing to disco music in the middle of the conference as a mid-day exercise.
Mid-day disco break!

Continuing the Conversation

At Exygy, we believe in cultivating this type of collaboration not only within healthcare, but also across the civic and philanthropic sectors. As we focus our efforts on building more healthy and resilient communities, we must break through sector isolations and organizational barriers, in order to center our focus on the communities at hand. 

We’ve often asked ourselves how might we empower a community to be heard and drive innovation based on their identified needs. One way we’ve invested in this is through our Community Engagement Project, starting with San Francisco and the Bay Area. As part of this project, our team is seeking to empathize with the individuals who live in this community – the single mother supporting three children, the native resident who can’t afford to pay their rent anymore, and the retiree struggling to integrate into the ever-changing neighborhood. This understanding will become our compass and direct us to where we should focus our efforts. 

Starting this year, we’ve also begun a series of Community Dinners. These dinners are aimed at bringing a handful of invitees who might not normally work together around a dinner table to discuss how we can address our community’s needs together. If you’re interested in participating in the future, we’d love to hear from you.

We’re committed to amplifying the voices of communities, continuing to craft innovative solutions, and fostering collaborations between all stakeholders. How are you collaborating within your community? Let us know at hello@exygy.com!

Photo credit: Kady Barnfield & Chris McCarthy


Eric Lam
Eric Lam
Partner, Health

Eric has a breadth of experience in coaching clients on how to adapt product design & development methodologies within their organization. Plus, he loves bouldering and rescue dogs.