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Capturing what and why in healthcare innovation
  1. Benet Reid1,
  2. Lori Leigh Davis1,
  3. Lisi Gordon2
  1. 1 Management School, University of St Andrews, St Andrews, UK
  2. 2 Centre for Medical Education, University of Dundee, Dundee, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Benet Reid, Management School, University of St Andrews, St Andrews, KY16 9RJ, UK; bglr{at}


Understandings of innovation usually encompass multiple overlapping aspects, putting innovation terminology at risk of vagueness and overuse. However, innovation concepts are expected to remain powerful and useful in healthcare beyond the pandemic and into the future, so clarity will be helpful for effective leadership. To disentangle and disambiguate meanings within innovation, we offer a framework that captures and simplifies foundational substance within innovation concepts. Our method is an overview review of innovation literature from the 5 years preceding COVID-19. 51 sources were sampled and analysed for explicit definitions of healthcare innovation. Drawing on broad themes suggested from previous reviews, and gathering specific themes emergent from this literary dataset, we focused on categorising the nature of innovations (the what) and reasons given for them (the why). We identified 4 categories of what (ideas, artefacts, practice/process and structure) and 10 categories of why (economic value, practical value, experience, resource use, equity/accessibility, sustainability, behaviour change, specific-problem solving, self-justifying renewal and improved health). These categories reflect contrasting priorities and values, but do not substantially interfere or occlude each other. They can freely be additively combined to create composite definitions. This conceptual scheme affords insight and clarity for creating precise meanings, and making critical sense of imprecision, around innovation. Improved communication and clear shared understandings around innovative intentions, policies and practices cannot but improve the chances of enhanced outcomes. The all-inclusive character of this scheme leaves space for considering the limits of innovation, and notwithstanding well-established critiques, provides a basis for clarity in ongoing usage.

  • health system
  • improvement
  • communication
  • analysis

Data availability statement

All data relevant to the study are included in the article or uploaded as online supplemental information.

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Data availability statement

All data relevant to the study are included in the article or uploaded as online supplemental information.

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  • Contributors BR: conceptualisation, analytical framework, drafting and editing of text. LLD: literature searching and gathering data, database of sources, analytical framework, references. LG: conceptualisation, analytical framework, text planning and review.

  • Funding Dr Davis’ time was funded from a collaborative project between University of Dundee; Tayside Academic Health Sciences Partnership; Medtronic; Scottish Enterprise; National Centre for Universities and Business. There is no award/grant number.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.