Dr. Graham: Pioneering and Practicing Innovation at Kettering Health
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Dr. Graham: Pioneering and Practicing Innovation at Kettering Health

The dictionary definition of “innovation” is straightforward: “a new idea, method, or device.” However, Thomas J. Graham, MD, senior vice president and Kettering Health’s inaugural chief innovation and transformation officer, gives a more contemporary definition of healthcare innovation: “Improving and extending human life while creating economic opportunities for the communities we serve.”

While recognizing names like the Wright Brothers, Deeds, Patterson, and others, Dr. Graham believes “that spirit [of innovation] exists not only in Dayton, but also here at Kettering Health. The name on our jersey, the front of our white coats, the buildings—they are celebrations of the life of one of the most prolific inventors Charles F. Kettering.”

Dr. Graham, a world-renowned orthopedic hand surgeon, joined Kettering Health this past May and will focus on defining and translating Kettering’s innovative culture, while facilitating our transition to becoming one system delivering care at multiple locations.

Previously, Dr. Graham served as Cleveland Clinic’s chief innovation officer, healthcare’s first such position, and the vice chairman of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. He also served as Chief of the Congressionally designated Curtis National Hand Center—the largest specialty practice of its kind in the world. Dr. Graham also spent time in New York City in similar roles at NYU Langone Health and Northwell, New York States largest healthcare system.

So why Kettering Health?

“We’re the perfect size laboratory to analyze and advance healthcare delivery. We’re big enough to excel at primary care and maintain the most sophisticated of specialty services, yet we are agile enough to respond to community needs and opportunities without undue delay. We have urban, suburban, and rural assets, and generations of families who have trusted us. We have everything that any system in any major city boasts right here in Dayton.”

Putting aside that Dr. Graham’s practice has been the pre-eminent destination for the care of the professional athlete’s hand and wrist for a quarter-century, what prompted him to such a large percentage of his life to advancing healthcare? Dr. Graham answers, “It was a confluence of two factors: I determined that hand surgery was to be my professional career before I even turned ten years old, and I was a competitive athlete who recognized that performance enhancement could potentially be delivered by employing scientific principles.” This resulted in Graham’s first job as an exercise physiologist for the United States Olympic Committee.

“By deciding to pursue medicine, and specifically a highly technical specialty, when I was eight years old, I simply got a head start, which allowed me to gain an unparalleled exposure through study and meeting amazingly generous mentors,” Dr. Graham explains. “I was permitted to expand my thinking beyond usual borders, which resulted in the
development of my practice concentration on professional athletes and the simultaneous freedom to seek new solutions to advance techniques and technologies.”

Dr. Graham, who personally holds more than 60 patents and founded medical device and information technology companies, translated his personal experience to pioneer what he calls “innovation at scale,” resulting in Cleveland Clinic Innovations: a multi-billion-dollar company that has helped support and develop solutions for some of healthcare’s most pressing and most complicated problems. Dr. Graham believes that a similar model can be developed and successfully operated at Kettering Health.

“We want all of our caregivers, at every level of the organization, across every hospital or practice, to say ‘I’m an innovator, I can make healthcare better.’” Dr. Graham says. “If you have an idea, there will be a conduit that allows you submit that idea, have it developed professionally and be rewarded for its success.”

While Dr. Graham is leading the charge, he is counting on all of our Kettering Health team members to generate these new ideas, methods, and devices. “We have a creative culture, and I know everyone is an expert at what they do; that knowledge of how to improve process or product not only translates into better care but can further define our system and create economic opportunity.”

“We represent one of the most important and expansive innovation identities on the planet – Charles F. Kettering,” says Dr. Graham. “There’s no reason we shouldn’t be the nucleus of innovation for this region and state, and across all of healthcare.”

“We are here to solve big problems, for large population, faster and more economically. We are on a journey to deliver better access, outcomes, and experiences to every patient we touch.”

September 7, 2021