Australian Policymakers Taking Cues from ‘Shark Tank’ on Disruptive Innovation

Walkabout Medical Homes with Mary Takach: A 10-month Study of Australia
January 2015 

Many people are familiar with the U.S. television show, Shark Tank, where budding entrepreneurs pitch business ideas to a panel of industry giants or “sharks,” ultimately convincing one or more of them to invest. Imagine taking a similar premise and adopting it as a strategy to surface innovations in the health policy arena. That is exactly what North Coast New South Wales (NCNSW) Medicare Local,one of 61 federally funded primary health care organizations in Australia that are charged with improving primary health care and ensuring that primary health care services are better tailored to meet the needs of local communities, did. Chief Executive Officer Vahid Saberi described sitting in an executive team meeting, discussing how to encourage ideas that address community needs when the corporate manager brought up the idea of using a reality TV format.

The name of the initiative is called PITCH – Practical Ideas to Change Healthcare. Since the birth of PITCH in 2012, the idea has taken off in numerous locations in Australia and Canada. Community providers and citizens are invited to briefly tell a panel of judges including executive leaders from the Medicare Local why their idea should be funded. “Ultimately the innovations have to be about making it easier for clinicians and providing better services to the community,” explained Saberi.

PITCH contests are arranged around different themes, the first being how to connect healthcare clinicians to reduce care fragmentation. During the inaugural round, 27 ideas were pitched and five were shortlisted to be presented before the panel of judges during a festive, evening community event. The winning idea was from a local primary care physician and practice manager who teamed up to create a web platform to foster clinician connections and, as a result, “Healthy North Coast” was borne. Healthy North Coast Network is a multipronged networking platform (including Facebook, website, Twitter, YouTube channel) that provides a private and professional space for interdisciplinary providers to converse and collaborate on projects as well as share information and resources.

Over the course of two years, the NCNSW Medicare Local has hosted 11 contests, and the PITCH panel has listened to more than 110 ideas, funding 10. In addition to “Healthy North Coast,” ideas that have been funded included improving transportation, art group for caregivers, youth mental health, chronicling the life of those in residential aged care and homeless services. The most recent PITCH funded was around engaging youth in mental health care through a “Rap and Poetry Slam.”

Regardless of whether the idea is selected for funding, pitching ideas in a community forum often helps foster connections, raise awareness regarding community needs, surface available resources, and begins the process of connecting people to create solutions. “Right from the outset as a Medicare Local, we have challenged ourselves to do things differently and have embraced disruptive innovation,” said Saberi. “ PITCH has been an important forum for new ideas that has supported us in this mission. It is really ideas that bring about change as they grow, mutate and broaden our vision.”

EATING BUGS IN AUSTRALIA

On my Walkabout Medical Home, I have enjoyed ‘tucking in’ to Australian food. I have a wide palate, but will confess that I hesitated when offered my first taste of green tree ants while hiking up in Northern Queensland. The hiking leader explained that these ants had a citrus-like tang and were a healthy “bush tucker” treat for Aboriginal people. The worse part of this experience was plucking the scrambling ants off of the trip leader’s arm to sample–yet I did. And no, it didn’t taste like chicken. It didn’t taste much like anything because they were so tiny!

My other encounter with Australian bugs was of the Moreton Bay variety. Now these bugs were something that I had absolutely no hesitancy eating. These “bugs” crawl around the sea floor and look like headless and clawless lobsters. Being a Mainer, I was determined to compare these bugs to our ‘lobstahs’. Chop off the tail, light the ‘barbie’, brush with butter and garlic, and bam! These bugs are wicked good and rival my beloved Maine lobster!