Dozens of healthcare innovators recently gathered at Steelcase headquarters in Grand Rapids, Michigan, to brainstorm a new vision for the future of healthcare.

The concept, called CareAnywhere, foresees a day when healthcare isn’t tethered to a single location, but rather is accessible wherever and whenever patients need it—at home, at work, and even on vacation.

The CareAnywhere concept was one of several ideas kicked around at the session, a semiannual meeting of the Innovation Learning Network (ILN), a consortium of mostly healthcare organizations.

Though the ILN was formed to tackle healthcare issues, the philosophy at its core—collaboration through innovation trumps collaboration through isolation—could lead to breakthroughs in any industry.

“What can we do together that we can’t do alone?” asks Chris McCarthy, a Kaiser Permanente innovation specialist who serves as director of the network. “The ILN believes that innovation doesn’t take place in isolation, but rather requires the meeting of minds from myriad perspectives.”

Creative minds

Created in 2006 with 2005 seed funding from the VHA Foundation, the ILN brings together creative minds from about a dozen of the nation’s top healthcare organizations, including Alegent Health, The Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Center for Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology (CIMIT).

What’s more, the group supplements its industry expertise by expanding membership to include consulting firms that can offer insight from different perspectives. There’s Gravity Tank, an innovation consulting firm in Chicago; Point Forward, ethnographic research experts in Redwood City, California; and the Social Invention Group, a Seattle firm that specializes in product development and strategic planning.

Linda DeWolf, president of the VHA Health Foundation, remains an ILN member even though there’s no longer a need for her organization to provide funding.

“We’ve funded 13 healthcare innovations since 2004, and this is one that has become self-sustaining,” she says. “The Foundation is still involved because we’re passionate about what the ILN is doing. This isn’t just a project—it’s a network of innovators who can also effectively diffuse their innovations.”

Opportunities for collaboration

The purpose of the ILN is to share knowledge and provide opportunities for collaboration, giving members access to expertise that can help them streamline the process of taking an idea from inception through maturation.

The recent ILN meeting at Steelcase, where participants delved into the CareAnywhere concept, is case in point. The meeting was hosted by Nurture, a Steelcase company focused on creating holistic, efficient, healthcare environments.

“It was a natural fit to host the ILN, especially given the discussion surrounding the idea of CareAnywhere,” says Michael Love, president of Nurture by Steelcase. “CareAnywhere pushes the envelope on how healthcare is delivered, much like Nurture does with healthcare environments.”

Hardly meetings as usual

Aside from the semiannual meetings, ILN members also connect through biweekly online sessions and quarterly webinars. It’s the Inperson meetings, however, that really exemplify the creative spirit of the organization. Loosely structured and participatory, the meetings are designed to encourage members to roll up their sleeves and get busy, not sit around and take notes.

The Nurture meeting included time for speed dating, a process whereby members collected information about each other as quickly as possible to see what professional connections might be worth pursuing.

Also on the agenda were a series of breakout sessions in which members introduced the germ of an idea for group consideration and solicited insight on how to move it forward.

“It’s not only current projects, but also ideas we haven’t been able to explore,” says Marilyn Chow, vice-president of national patient care services at Kaiser Permanente. “At the Nurture meeting, I was able to share an idea and in 45 minutes had the framework for a new grant proposal. That process would have taken me months to years on my own.”

To learn more about the ILN visit