BACKGROUND: Digital health innovations are being prioritized on international policy agendas in the hope that they will help to address the existing health system challenges.
OBJECTIVE: The aim of this study was to explore the setup, design, facilities, and strategic priorities of leading United Kingdom and United States health care innovation centers to identify transferable lessons for accelerating their creation and maximizing their impact.
METHODS: We conducted qualitative case studies consisting of semistructured, audio-recorded interviews with decision makers and center staff in 6 innovation centers. We also conducted nonparticipant observations of meetings and center tours, where we took field notes. Qualitative data were analyzed initially within and then across cases facilitated by QSR International's NVivo software.
RESULTS: The centers had different institutional arrangements, including university-associated institutes or innovation laboratories, business accelerators or incubators, and academic health science partnership models. We conducted interviews with 34 individuals, 1 group interview with 3 participants, and observations of 4 meetings. Although the centers differed significantly in relation to their mission, structure, and governance, we observed key common characteristics. These included high-level leadership support and incentives to engage in innovation activities, a clear mission to address identified gaps within their respective organizational and health system settings, physical spaces that facilitated networking through open-door policies, flat managerial structures characterized by new organizational roles for which boundary spanning was key, and a wider innovation ecosystem that was strategically and proactively engaged with the center facilitating external partnerships.
CONCLUSIONS: Although innovation in health care settings is unpredictable, we offer insights that may help those establishing innovation centers. The key in this respect is the ability to support different kinds of innovations at different stages through adequate support structures, including the development of new career pathways.