What comes to mind when you hear the word innovation? Creativity? Entrepreneurship? Ingenuity? The word innovation may itself be jargon, but when organizations “innovate” in collaboration with other industry stakeholders, great things can happen.

As CEO of New York’s largest healthcare system, I am increasingly convinced that to achieve true innovation, there needs to be collaboration – even if it means staring across the table from historical adversaries, and coalescing specialties and business units that rarely intersect. In the fast-changing health care delivery arena, we are now seeing providers, retailers and insurers forming partnerships, convening online or at in-person conferences on research and best practices to achieve our shared goals: better and more cost-effective patient health care.

Today’s thought leaders are getting out of their silos to support each other like no other time in history. Here are three examples that come to mind:

Sharing data to fight an epidemic

In 2015 and 2016, countries in North and South America were dealing with a rapidly spreading viral epidemic: Zika fever. According to the US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, almost 2,500 pregnant women showed a possible Zika virus infection since 2015 in the US alone. In US territories, nearly 5,000 women were affected. It spread like wildfire and affected almost every state.

At the height of the outbreak, some 30 different (and competitive) scientific organizations from around the world, ranging from journals, to healthcare systems to non-profit groups and research institutions, agreed to share all of the data on the virus they’ve accumulated to thwart it from spreading. Journals such as Science, Nature, and the New England Journal of Medicine, which often compete to publish breakthrough studies, came together to help stop the virus by sharing the data and studies they gathered.

The Zika virus was soon contained, and the data these organizations shared may have laid the foundation to innovate clinical trials for the creation of a vaccine, which may not have happened had they not come together for a common cause.

Sharing ideas to find a cure

Last week, thousands came together for the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference. The conference brings new ideas, studies and speakers to address what we can do to cure a disease that affects the 5.7 million Americans living with the neurodegenerative disease.

Speakers from different healthcare organizations, research institutes and universities spoke together about a range of topics. Researchers came together and shared breakthrough research that will lead them one step closer to curing the disease. They come from competing research institutes to collaborate on technologies including a new drug that slows memory loss.

Those at the conference chose to collaborate, not compete to come up with an innovative approach to combat this pervasive e disease.

Sharing a stage to change the future of medicine

At Northwell Health, I have challenged our more than 1,000 researchers and scientists to look beyond the walls of our institution to change the future of medicine. We’ve made a commitment to leverage our leadership among the world’s great medical institutions to offer the health care industry a platform to share ideas, build networks and drive growth.

Next week, we will convene our first innovation summit The Constellation Forum, which will gather a group of leaders in bioelectronic medicine and other areas to foster strategic partnerships, optimize scientific outcomes, and hopefully elevate the importance of collaboration as a means to find innovative solutions to the most pressing healthcare challenges facing the industry.

For the Constellation Forum, we will accomplish this by bringing together competitors such as the CMO’s of both CVS and Walgreens. Just as retailers have storefronts across the street from one other to drive more traffic, we’re setting out to build bridges among competitive organizations to share ideas and hopefully create inspired partnerships for the greater good.

We hear the words innovate and innovation often. But we now recognize that the path to true innovation to tackle seemingly intractable problems is not to compete, but know when to cooperate, collaborate, integrate, aggregate or just plain communicate.

At a time when the nation is divided, we hope that more and more organizations, especially in the healthcare arena will recognize the long-term value to their stakeholders, and their own success, through such collaboration.


Michael J. Dowling is president and chief executive officer of Northwell Health, which delivers world-class clinical care throughout the New York metropolitan area, pioneering research at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research and a visionary approach to medical education highlighted by the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell and the Hofstra Northwell School of Graduate Nursing and Physician Assistant Studies.