Crisis as a Catalyst for Innovation – Silver Linings from COVID-19

A period of crisis can be a boom for innovation. Defined as “a time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger”, a crisis is also an extremely effective catalyst for rapid ideation and decisive action.

A period of crisis can be a boom for innovation. Defined as “a time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger”, a crisis is also an extremely effective catalyst for rapid ideation and decisive action.

The Apollo 13 moon-landing mission in 1970 offers a well-known example of successful innovation during a crisis, after an unexpected, in-flight explosion damaged the spacecraft. Under extremely tense circumstances, NASA engineers on the ground took quick action to improvise in-flight repairs that ultimately saved the lives of all three crew members.

The COVID-19 Effect

Fifty years later, the global COVID-19 pandemic crisis has catalyzed many powerful innovations, some providing near-term relief and others offering long-term impact. For example, as the pandemic began exploding around the world, distilleries in multiple countries immediately pivoted to production of hand sanitizer to help meet an enormous spike in demand. Grocery stores re-tooled inventory management practices to keep food and supplies flowing to customers, even as panic-buying overwhelmed the system.

In healthcare, various telemedicine solutions were rolled out, practically overnight, as providers quickly rallied to offer alternative healthcare access supporting physical/social distancing protocols, and allowing prioritization of hospital and clinic facility space for COVID-19 patients. Innovators in 3D printing – and even the Tesla car manufacturer – stepped in with emergency production of parts in need, such as components for face shields, ventilators, and test swabs. New AI algorithms were rapidly developed to assist with screening for and detection of COVID-19.

Silver Linings

In contrast to Apollo 13, the COVID-19 crisis is not fully resolvable in a matter of hours or days. The return to pre-COVID conditions will be slow and gradual, and in some cases, will never occur.

The silver lining is that the immense amount of creativity and ingenuity catalyzed by this crisis is as unprecedented as the situation itself. It is resulting in an unparalleled mobilization of bold ideas and decisions that will positively improve the lives of global citizens for years to come, in future pandemic scenarios as well as everyday life. People and businesses will not be inclined to willingly part with new conveniences, efficiencies, or advancements, merely because the crisis that originally inspired them has abated.

Crisis can create the organizational courage to take actions in support of a purpose that would be unthinkable in times of calm.”

Larry Clark, “Innovation in a Time of Crisis”, Leading the Way, Harvard Business Publishing, March 26,

A Culture of Innovation

LifeBridge Health is a large regional healthcare delivery network in the greater Baltimore, Maryland area. The organization highly values innovation and maintains an executive position chartered with the task of cultivating a culture of innovation.

Dr. Daniel Durand is the Chief Innovation Officer as well as the Chair of Radiology for LifeBridge Health. He oversees efforts across the organization to discover and leverage new approaches, both within medicine as well as operationally, to yield improvements in outcomes and to create new efficiencies.

For example, in recent years LifeBridge has employed pioneering home monitoring technology in conjunction with telemedicine to reduce the need for patient hospital visits. The organization is successfully leveraging groundbreaking AI imaging technology as well as an early warning system for sepsis, significantly decreasing sepsis mortality rates.

Innovating Against COVID-19

In episode three of Intelerad’s RadVoice – Rallying Against COVID-19 podcast series, Dr. Durand shares his perspective on how the COVID-19 situation has brought about changes in attitudes for things such as telehealth models. He and Chris Wood, former Intelerad chief technology officer, discuss the rapid release of new medical publications pertaining to COVID-19, and the speed with which the healthcare industry is responding with innovative ideas for treating or preventing the disease.

“I think a lot of the art of treating COVID is going to be figuring out the multiparametric equation for who’s going to decline,” says Dr. Durand.

He discusses the promise of leveraging lab and demographic parameters, perhaps with data from the viral or human genome, in innovative ways to better determine a patient’s individual risk for developing the disease and/or experiencing a bad outcome. Extrapolations from the available data may also hold the key to more effectively targeting and fine-tuning therapies.

Pivotal Role of Medical Imaging

As a radiologist, Dr. Durand is especially knowledgeable about the importance of medical imaging in the battle against COVID-19, such as identifying the role of clotting issues. “American radiology has done a very good job of studying this disease in situ, and figuring out what the different manifestations are, and documenting the association with things like blood clots,” he says.

Superior access to imaging in the United States and Canada has yielded novel insights that are having a big impact on understanding and treating COVID-19. “DVTs, PEs, and blood clots are generally imaging diagnoses. If it weren’t for imaging, medicine probably wouldn’t have known these clots were happening,” Dr. Durand says. “So in a sense, one of the most promising COVID therapeutic approaches thus far – anticoagulant therapies – rests upon a discovery made by medical imaging.”

Beyond the Crisis

However dire a period of crisis can be for those who experience it, crisis is also an opportunity to drive useful, impactful, and lasting change. The conditions of crisis change the pace of innovation and ideation. They inspire a culture of experimentation and responsiveness, allowing ingenuity to prevail within a context of increased acceptance. These unique conditions catalyze advances that far outlast the crisis itself.