With the title of vice president of innovation and advanced technology, it's no surprise that Faye K. Sahai had a hand in cutting-edge projects at Kaiser Permanente.
In her tenure at the California healthcare provider, Sahai and her team worked on sensor-embedded sponges and other items used in operating rooms to ensure that no surgical instruments are left inside a patient, and on an "ambulance transport navigator" that keeps critical patients' records with the person through all stages of care. Their other projects included work on a kiosk-based treatment center located in a government building that people can use to meet with their doctors via videoconference.
The cross-functional team that Sahai led is based in San Leandro, Calif., at the 37,000-sq.-ft. Garfield Innovation Center, a facility that's equipped to handle simulations, prototype development and other ways of testing new ideas, techniques and tools.
The people who work there include enterprise architects, user experience/interface designers and programmers. Doctors, nurses, lab technicians — pretty much all Kaiser employees — are an extended part of that innovation team, too. "Kaiser is a large organization, and it's very helpful to have that cross-organizational innovation network," says Sahai, 46, who is now an innovation services leader and adviser at Exponential Talent LLC.
To nurture innovation, Kaiser encourages staffers to track medical trends and help implement promising new technologies. The company also has innovation-oriented conferences and contests for all employees, and those with the best ideas receive awards and seed money.
"You can have wonderful labs and funding," Sahai says, "but you need that support structure to help foster and cultivate innovation."