Innovation capacity of hospitals

Hospitals in the Netherlands are currently in a strong development phase. Market forces in healthcare, private clinics and hospitals with major financial deficits are common today. Innovation or renewal in hospitals can keep their heads afloat. But how can innovation capacity be generated in hospitals? Scientific research provides more insight into this issue.

What is innovation (capability)?

Innovation is a synonym of renewal: doing new things and doing existing things differently. Various scholars have made more extensive definitions of the words. These definitions can be divided into profit and non-profit. Innovation in profit organizations often has the main goal of making more profit. In hospitals, economic growth is not the driving force behind innovation, but the urge for innovation mainly arises from the pursuit of better quality, productivity and efficiency in healthcare. A hospital wants the best for its patients. Money is less important. Although this principle is increasingly being called into question due to increasing market forces.

Innovation categories

Three innovation categories can be distinguished. An innovation can, for example, be a product or service, but also a new organizational form. The table below details the three types.

Innovation type


Technological innovation

Developing new products or services

Product innovation

Improving products or services

Logistics innovation

Developing and improving processes or organizational forms

Innovation capacity

The power to innovate is what an organization can use to influence the extent to which it is innovative. Research has shown that knowledge and learning capacity, organizational structure, organizational culture, interaction with the environment and the management of innovations are necessary for innovative power.

How is the innovation capacity of hospitals increased?

Organizational culture

Organizational culture is the most important when it comes to the innovativeness of a hospital organization. Norms and values within an organization determine the extent to which a hospital innovates. Openness and risk propensity are the most important factors within this. Openness and transparency have a strong link to competition. If one hospital is better than the other, this creates conflict. The second factor within organizational culture is creativity. Creativity appeals to people’s intrinsic motivation and provides innovative ideas. The third but certainly not least important aspect is trust. An innovation such as the Electronic Patient File (EPD) requires trust between parties such as health insurers and hospitals in the case of the Health Smart Card, for example. Finally, cooperation influences innovative power. Is collaboration self-evident? Is there really a team?

Managing innovations

Managing innovations is almost as important as organizational culture and, in addition to the extent to which a hospital is able to initiate innovations, largely determines whether the innovations are also successfully completed. Managing innovations starts with an organizational strategy and the key points within the innovation policy that result from it. Furthermore, it can be concluded that the management of innovations consists of communication and leadership and to a lesser extent also of small, targeted interventions. Communication and leadership are both crucial for motivating people. Show what you are doing and publish it internally but also to the outside world. This can also strengthen competition between institutions such as hospitals. Small interventions often determine whether an innovation is successful. A new person can strongly influence a renewal process. In general, the management of innovations is more important in large-scale and long-term innovation processes.

Knowledge and learning ability

Thirdly, knowledge and learning ability are essential when it comes to innovation capacity. Individual knowledge, competencies and learning ability have the most influence in this regard. Especially when it comes to healthcare innovation, knowledge accumulation is a must have to arrive at a new treatment method, for example. In adapting innovations, learning capacity comes to the fore, whereby lessons can be learned from previous findings. Another aspect of knowledge and learning capacity is research and development, which is mainly important with regard to medical innovation. Medical technological innovations require scientific research. Prototypes must also be built for, for example, new lifting equipment. Collective knowledge and organizational learning are approximately as important for innovative power as knowledge management and environmental learning. By talking to each other and sharing experiences, new insights are created. In particular, sharing knowledge and providing insight between departments leads to logistics innovation. Knowledge management and organizational learning is the last aspect. In the current situation, this is largely guaranteed through the trade associations of which specialists are members. Environmental learning mainly takes place due to market forces in healthcare that are increasingly penetrating and causing hospitals to search for their niche.

Interaction with the environment

Interaction with the environment is almost on a level with knowledge and learning ability . These two also partly overlap due to environmental learning. Interaction is important on three levels; horizontal, vertical and cross-functional. These are almost equal in importance. At a horizontal level, this mainly concerns coordination with other parties such as healthcare organizations and insurers. Logistical change is very dependent on this. For example, when it comes to better coordination of the route that a patient takes from the GP to the rehabilitation center via the hospital. Vertical cooperation centers on the interaction between the different layers that exist within the organizational structure of hospitals. What one department introduces can have consequences for another department, including when it comes to financial matters. It is important for innovation capacity to have this overview so that gaps become visible from which innovation can emerge. In addition, a professional cannot innovate without the support of a Board of Directors and the same applies vice versa. Finally, cross-functional interaction influences interaction ability. Vertical and horizontal cooperation are integrated. This includes dialogue with patients, coordination with health insurers and the integration of the healthcare chain is not possible without cross-functional interaction.

Organization structure

Organizational structure is the least important for innovative power. Ultimately, prevailing norms and values determine how innovation is handled. Yet organizational structure also influences innovative capacity, albeit to a lesser extent than the other variables. The autonomy of professionals can hinder new initiatives. When it comes to the introduction of innovations, the power ultimately lies with the professionals who have the right to veto. The method of centralization is therefore an important influencing factor when it comes to innovative power. In addition, formalization is also important. Prevailing protocols, guidelines, etc. often hinder the speed at which innovations can be introduced in hospitals. Finally, the degree of specialization was measured within this study. However, its influence is not demonstrably important for innovativeness.