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An Insightful Interview With One of Denmark’s Health Innovation Experts

Susie A. Ruff, CEO of Ruff Business Innovation

Photo Credit: Michael Leyson - Susie A. Ruff, Kilmainham, Dublin, Ireland

Briefly describe your professional background.

Susie A. Ruff is the founder of RUFF & CO. Business Innovation where she passionately works in the field of Health Innovation and tech solutions for Healthcare and Wellness. She has more than 25 years of experience, among others as a manager. She has held positions such as Head of Healthcare Innovation Centre, Head of Design Promotion & Innovation and Design, Head of trade Department and Regional Export Sales and Marketing Manager. Susie has worked in both public organizations and private corporations such as the Danish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, The Capital Region of Denmark and Danish Design Centre.

Susie holds a M.Sc. in International Business Administration from Copenhagen Business School and has studied and worked in several countries, among others the USA, Spain, France, Argentina and Thailand. She is a part time external lecturer at the 2-year M.Sc. in Innovation in Healthcare at the Copenhagen Business School.

She has completed several executive courses in innovation from Stanford University as well as the Advanced Management Program in Innovation in Healthcare from IESE, Imperial College and Copenhagen Business School.

What are your observations in healthcare and how did you come to be a part of it.

I would say my own observations about healthcare are that there is a big need for innovation and change. In my previous position as the Head of Design Promotion and Innovation at the Danish Design Centre, I worked with design as a means and tool for innovation and service design. I could see how this approach could support innovation in healthcare.

Healthcare makes sense to work in and is meaningful. It is one of the big global challenges we face today, including the growing ageing population, lack of human resources for healthcare and lack of finances to support public healthcare. With my business & business development background I could see the need to link business into healthcare and vice versa.

Where do you think the Danish healthcare system is going and what do you think needs to be done?

Where we are going. Tasks are moved from hospitals and the 5 regions in Denmark responsible for delivering healthcare to municipalities to care and home care. This means that the 98 municipalities’ responsibility for care is growing. This also means there is a growing need for new competencies and more resources.

The need for connectivity between hospitals in the 5 regions and the care systems in municipalities is growing and demands the use of digital health solutions and concepts where citizens (and their next of kin) are empowered to take over some of the tasks themselves (patient empowerment, self-service).

What needs to be done.There is a need to change the culture amongst healthcare professionals. Focus on innovative procurement and implementation of the solutions so that we are not only focusing on new ideas and pilots, but we must be better at choosing the solutions and concepts with the best potential and support them to implementation and scaling and then “kill our darlings”at an earlier stage.

What is the toughest challenge in spreading evidence based innovation across an organization or a region?

To create the business case and to document the value of the implementation of a new digital solution, a new innovative concept, an innovative organizational change, a service design solution. And to implement it in organizations where the culture is hesitant to change, as there is already a lot of pressure and changes in the Danish healthcare system.

Realize that innovation in healthcare is sometimes a long-term investment and that it cannot always show results from year to year. In Denmark, as well as globally, innovation is also about implementing and scaling already invented and developed solutions with a good business case across healthcare systems, across hospitals, regions and municipalities and not having to reinvent already existing solutions. 

Photo Credit: Michael Leyson – Susie A. Ruff with Lorcan Birthistle, CEO St. James Hospital Dublin, Ireland.

Of the innovation projects you’ve observed, what are the most common problems they set out to solve?

Work smarter, not harder, using digital solutions that link staff to the citizen and the patient for example Tele-health, eHealth, avoiding transportation to clinic or hospital or healthcare staff having to visit the citizen at home. Mental health. Several new Tele-psychiatry solutions have been launched so that the care system can be in contact with the citizen online. Service design and way finding in hospitals and healthcare facilities. Technology and MedTech, there is a lot of MedTech innovations on their way at a global level, such as devices used for medical treatment.

What are some of the most cost effective decisions executives have made regarding innovation that really moved the needle and produced results or significant improvements?

Supporting the development of needs driven solutions and allowing funding and time and resources for development and testing. Innovative MedTech solutions that have improved quality and speed for example in operations, such as robotics and surgery.

What advice would you give with regards to leadership and innovation to new leaders or entrepreneurs?

Technology is not enough. There is so much of it out there! It is about people, motivation and the organization! Work together, in triple helix care systems – hospitals, industry and research institutions. Needs driven innovation:Don’t forget the users and customers. Solutions that are developed without any need and are being tested with users till the last phase will not be successful.

In healthcare, create local ownership. Involve staff from the beginning and let them learn about tools and methods. Then they become interested and in the best cases employment satisfaction rises as staff are contributing with their knowledge and experience to new initiatives and solutions! Carry out short but effective pilots and testing. Innovation should not be long haul projects. It is ok to fail and to discontinue a project that has no potential. It is very important to know who your stakeholders are.

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