Medicine and technology are more intertwined than ever. The catalyst for that bond? Innovation.

Banner Health launched the Banner Innovation Group (BIG) in May, an initiative created to merge two groups at Banner to develop and implement programs that enhance and improve patients’ healthcare experience.

Scott Nordlund, chief strategy and growth officer for Banner Health, is leading this initiative. Nordlund’s responsibilities encompass “strategic planning for merger acquisition and partnership development, marketing communications, consumer engagement for the growth of our four major service lines: cardiovascular, oncology, orthopedics, and women’s, infants and pediatrics. And our innovation and digital business.”

Scott Nordlund

BIG consists of two existing groups at Banner Health: the innovation and digital business leadership team, and their imaginariums – which Nordlund describes as innovation incubators to test ideas, apply them in pilot settings to determine their effectiveness, and if so, disseminating them throughout the organization.

The BIG has some ambitious goals, which include “enabling intrapreneurs, helping champion colleague ideas, and having accelerator partners that can commercialize great ideas, and also to create a new avenue for entrepreneurs as well,” Nordlund says. “We also want to be able to effectively work with venture companies, partner with strategic companies that we already work with in a deeper way, and collaborate in innovation hubs – I think our new structure will create a more streamlined approach to that. I’ve worked in big companies throughout my career, and I think one of the most difficult things in large organizations is knowing, ‘Where do I take ideas? How do I bring them to life? What do I do with them?’ so this will be, we hope, a very frictionless experience for people to be able to work with us.”

Why did Banner choose to implement this initiative now? Nordlund says the reasoning behind it came from one of Banner Health’s core values as an organization that courageously innovates.

“To do that, we’re trying to organize ourselves to be very strategic and proactive in our approach to innovation. That started with simply defining what innovation means… for Banner we decided to define it as emerging and novel ideas that shape the future model of healthcare, earn loyalty and drive strategic growth.”

Part of BIG’s objectives include organizing existing activity, such as a VR enhanced labor delivery experience and streamlining the emergency care experience, Nordlund says. “I think the bigger opportunity is as a comprehensive health system, we can really innovate in ways that can make fundamental and significant changes in the healthcare model that maybe others can’t,” Nordlund says. Adjusting the emergency care experience is likely the first large activity under BIG, Nordlund says. “When you have to go to the emergency room (ER), it’s expensive, it’s never a desired experience, and there’s a lot of tension because you’re at a very vulnerable point in your life when you’re there, so if you really need to be in the ER, we want to make it a great experience. We want to save money and frustration, so we’ve looked at a couple things to help our members and patients make the right choice and to receive the best care.”

Some of those focus areas to help members and patients involve their 45+ urgent care centers in the Valley. Banner created an app where patients can check in on their phone, get directions to an urgent care, see updated wait times, and it has a 24-hour nurse line to provide support and guidance to determine if the emergency department is the right fit for their concern, Nordlund says.

Banner also as a teleconsult and chatbot in the ER which gives patients a chance to be triaged and assessed quicker and receive updates about when they will be seen by a medical professional or when they will receive tests, Nordland says. In addition, “Banner has an app where EMTs can communicate patient vitals and other information pre-ER arrival, so that we can be prepared to transition them effectively,” Nordlund says.

“I think the ER experience is a great example of things we’ve developed, partnerships that we’ve brought in from the outside to help us make an experience better, and then a strategy around a key avenue into our health system to try to make our consumers much happier in a stressful and difficult time in their lives.”

Nordlund says innovation is applied to three broad categories in almost every health system, and Banner is aiming to see results with the help of BIG in those areas.

“Healthcare needs to be lower cost; it needs to be higher quality and it needs to be a more convenient and pleasing consumer experience.” Banner’s mission statement also encapsulates the goals of BIG, Nordlund says. “Banner is going to be making healthcare easier, so life can be better; it’s going to require innovation, because historically it has been a difficult and not very consumer-friendly experience to navigate.”

He attributes part of the future success of BIG to condensing two groups into one team under strategy and growth. “It creates really clear lines and shared goals amongst innovation, digital business and marketing, and that’s allowed us to collaborate really effectively on projects like evolving the urgent cares and emergency department digital front doors.”

Nordlund also cites some technology partners which will contribute to the success of BIG. “It allows us to establish new partnerships and create commercialization opportunities to bring solutions to market. And external partners are going to be a critical part of our innovation strategy, finding best in class, novel partners in areas that will help us advance will be really important,” Nordlund says. “We want to strategically invest in innovation to create that future model of healthcare. The goals of BIG are to guide Banner and help Banner make a difference in healthcare.”