Expert Tips for Government Health Innovation

Omalade Alawade

Government health innovation: Yes, those words go together.

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The HHS Idea Lab supports disruptive ideas and actions that fundamentally alter the status quo. Led by the Entrepreneur-in-Residence, the team helps remove barriers that HHS employees face and promote better ways of working in government.

The Idea Lab recently hosted a Demo Day, where members of the HHS Ignite Accelerator showcased health innovation prototypes, including groundbreaking digital technologies and new processes for operating more efficiently. The diverse judging panel, named the “Shark Tank” after the popular reality TV show, featured seasoned experts in government, academia, and the private sector. Below are some of the sharks’ best nuggets of wisdom on successfully developing federal public health solutions. 


Shark Tip #1: Allocate funding not just for scaling an innovation, but also for incentivizing adoption among end users.

When you’re caught up in the whirlwind of rapid prototyping, it’s easy to focus your “ask” solely on funding to take your idea to the next stage of development. However, your dazzling new innovation will be rendered obsolete without active end users. The sharks recommend allocating a portion of your projected budget to marketing, outreach, and incentivization in order to maximize the potential impact on public health.

Shark Tip #2: When asking for buy-in from executive leadership, don’t forget to discuss nonmonetary needs.

In addition to requesting financial backing, it’s also important to ask your agency leaders to provide nonmonetary support to help solve your public health problem. The Demo Day presenters most frequently listed:

  1. Approval for end user interviews
  2. Additional full-time employees
  3. Technical assistance from specialists and subject matter experts

The combination of these critical elements along with adequate funding can help advance your health innovation from prototype to final product.


Shark Tip #3: Focus more on solving a problem than promoting a specific solution.

When formulating new concepts and approaches for solving a health issue, you should begin the ideation process without a specific end product in mind. Allow the evidence gathered from formative research and usability testing to guide the development of your breakthrough public health tool. This might mean abandoning your first (or second) idea, but an evidence-based product with consistent end user input will more effectively target the problem and produce the desired health outcomes.

Shark Tip #4: Seek best practices on commercialization from the private sector and apply them to government inventions.

Many HHS researchers, scientists, and technologists don’t consider tweaking their health innovations and repackaging them for public consumption. By putting new solutions directly in the hands of the people, HHS can advance its mission to protect the health of all Americans. This paradigm shift will require federal employees to meet with industry leaders to learn best practices of commercialization and to brainstorm methods for applying them in a not-for-profit setting.

At IQ Solutions, we help our government clients conceptualize, develop, test, and market groundbreaking health innovations. Check out this case study on the SAMHSA Behavioral Health Disaster Response App to see how we helped the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration transform its hard-copy Disaster Kit into a cost-saving mobile app that allows emergency responders to access critical behavioral health resources in the aftermath of a disaster.

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