Q&A with Chris McCarthy, vice president of strategy & innovation at HopeLab

State of Reform recently talked via email with Chris McCarthy about his new position at HopeLab as vice president of strategy and innovation. This Q&A has been edited for clarity and length.

State of Reform: What drew you to HopeLab?

McCarthy: I’ve had a crush on HopeLab for about a decade. I first learned of them at a Tech Demo Day at Kaiser Permanente’s Garfield Center for Innovation where they featured Re-Mission.  I was wowed by the passion, play, creativity and research that went into designing this stellar solution.  I’ve been hooked ever since.

SoR: Tell me about your new role as vice president of strategy and innovation.

McCarthy: It’s both a new role for me and HopeLab. I love creating the shoes, rather than stepping into someone else’s. I’ve been blessed that this is the third time in 14 years that I get to do that. This role in particular will be a leadership blend of strategy, innovation and design. I am confident of a third of the role with its focus on internally leading design and innovation.  I feel good about a third of the role which on the future-forward strategy of the organization.  I am less confident but super jazzed for the final third; that ambiguous mix of stuff that emerges at the role takes shapes over time.

SoR: Your last position was leading Kaiser Permanente’s Innovation Consultancy. What were some of your accomplishments while there?

McCarthy: There are two levels to consider.  First are the structural accomplishments.  Over a decade plus long period, I co-created the innovation and design infrastructure to allow continuous innovation. What I love about this, is that it allowed us to escape the “one hit wonder” syndrome and to become rapid-learners.

The second level are the projects themselves. From innovations like Nurse Knowledge Exchange (shift change) and KP MedRite (mediation administration) to design insights projects like Redwood (social space of elders) and Lantern (the transgender care experience).  All four have had great impact at Kaiser.

SoR: HopeLab focuses primarily on the digital health field. Kaiser, even as a non-profit, is more invested in the traditional health care model. How will your background benefit HopeLab and how will you navigate this difference?

McCarthy: Yes, there are differences however many of us are evolving away from these silo’ed solutions, like digital, and thinking much more broadly about how the total solution, tech, tool, space, process, works for bigger impact. I believe both these organizations understand that and are moving in that direction.

With that said, the complexity of growing the innovation and design function in such a complex organization like Kaiser will give a lot of analogous insights in how to do this effectively for HopeLab with its many innovation partners – a different kind of complexity.

SoR: You also founded the Innovation Learning Network. How does HopeLab benefit as a member organization at the ILN?

McCarthy: The Innovation Learning Network is made up of 40-plus large health care organizations, design firms and foundations who share innovation know how. Most importantly we cultivate friendships across these organizations’ innovators and leaders, expanding their access to the right knowledge at the right time.

Perhaps the most important benefit is what we call “ping the network;” we can quickly connect to the other organizations to learn what they are up to or even partner to better utilize our resources.

SoR: What are you hoping to focus on at HopeLab?  Is there anything you’re working on right now?

McCarthy: Well, I’m only one week into the work! However there are a few areas that I am stepping into like adolescents and young adults with cancer and vulnerable first-time moms.  And we are expecting to move quickly into the teen emotional wellness space.

At a broader level, I hope to take the incredible history and foundation that HopeLab already has in design and innovation and take it to the next level; developing a clear point of view on design at HopeLab that is responsive and can rapidly pivot to the awesome challenges of the young people we serve.

SoR: You’re leading a panel on teen mental health and tech-based innovation at South by Southwest festival. Could you dive into that topic?

McCarthy: The SXSW panel will be mostly interactive and a “wisdom of the crowd” session.  We will be giving a high-level overview of teen mental health followed by a storystorming session.  It’s a technique that inserts brainstorming in a comic strip, keeping the idea generation inside the story rather than is a dissociative way. Participants will fuel us with ideas and concepts that we will later process post-SXSW.

SoR: What do you see as HopeLab’s role during this tumultuous time in health care?

McCarthy: Health care has been tumultuous for as long as I can remember. The lesson has been simple:  stay focused on mission.  HopeLab’s mission is as relevant last year, as it is this year, as it will be next year.