The notion of disruption has infiltrated many industries, including healthcare. New ways of delivering care, thinking, and leading have brought us powerful innovations and new technologies.

Why is disruption so important, and why do we talk about it so much? And is it truly central to the future of healthcare as we know it?

Change is a Constant

As in other industries, change is a constant in healthcare. New medications, treatments, and technologies continue to emerge at breakneck speed: robotics and artificial intelligence, EMRs/EHRs, video-based medical appointments, and other innovations have altered various aspects of healthcare management and delivery.

Still, this particular industry can feel unadventurous, old, and out of touch when it comes to long lines in ER waiting rooms, the ubiquitously disappointing 15-minute doctor visit, and the cost of prescription drugs and health insurance. Even as things change, so many things sadly remain the same.

Resistance to the constancy of change is all too common. When questioning why things are how they are, many nurses have heard the old refrain, “Well, that’s just the way it’s always been done.”

When the first Pilgrims first loaded their ships for the so-called “New World” (no matter how you feel about the consequences of their actions), many folks stayed behind in relative safety and continued fear of the unknown. It’s the risk-takers who make history — and healthcare is no exception.

Risk-Taking and Serendipity

Taking risks is part and parcel of the process of discovery and disruption. Those who are willing to stretch the boundaries of what’s possible are often the ones who serendipitously create new therapies, discover unheard of connections, and otherwise move the needle of any industry you can name.

The man who founded McDonald’s took a chance that Americans would appreciate hamburgers, fries, and milkshakes from a disruptive model of food delivery. And lo and behold, McDonalds totally disrupted the restaurant industry.

Netflix began as a DVD delivery service that eventually spelled the end of retail video stores like Blockbuster. Now, Netflix is disrupting the television and movie industry as pioneers of on-demand streaming video. Who can imagine not being able to binge-watch their favorite shows whenever they want from any device they choose?

Supporters of cryptocurrencies will pontificate how these electronic forms of money and investment are the absolute future that will wipe out paper and metal money within 50 years.

In healthcare, disruption is indeed happening. Back in the day, minimally-invasive laparoscopic surgery was almost science fiction, and now it’s a mainstay of surgical intervention.

Video-based doctor visits and “minute clinics” staffed by autonomous nurse practitioners are all the rage; an increasing number of surgeries are performed robotically; and at this very moment, Amazon is buying up wholesale pharmaceutical licenses. Meanwhile, the use of medical marijuana is skyrocketing.

From a nursing perspective, Florence Nightingale was a total disruptor: she brought cleanliness, order, and infection prevention and control to the table; she also founded the science of biostatistics while she was at it. Ms. Nightingale is the glorious ancestor of countless nurses who are now driving change within a profession that often resists novel approaches, even when the evidence points to its intelligence and prudence.

Serendipitous things happen when the risk-takers go out on a limb, and the 21st century will see no shortage of massive seismic shifts. Disruption does not have to come in the form of new technologies — Nightingale herself demonstrated how new ways of thinking can be the most powerful forefront of change.

Champions of Disruption and Change

In 50 years, the delivery of healthcare may look very different from its current state. Some of these changes are already being predicted by medical futurists who have their finger on the proverbial pulse, yet even these individuals may be surprised by future disruptive technologies and practices that have yet to be thought of and unleashed in the marketplace.

Curiosity, open-mindedness, and the willingness to pivot and grow are at the heart of the massive forces shaping societies in the early 21st century. There will always be resistance and naysaying, yet there will also be champions of change.

At this point, we can hold out hope that nurses, physicians, informaticists, and others will continue to have increasing latitude to bring new ideas to light. Healthy skepticism has its place as long as novel discoveries and strategies are welcomed with the curiosity, respect, and open-mindedness that their innovations deserve.

The 21st century is barely out of its infancy, and multifaceted forms of healthcare disruption will only increase in scope and frequency as the decades progress. May we meet that challenge with minds wide open.