Nationwide Children’s Hospital leads its industry from the forefront


Several Boston institutions recently put on a contest where five patients’ diagnosis couldn’t be found through conventional means. Institutions from around the world were given genetic code and clinical information, and then were judged based on who could come up with the best rationale and diagnosis.

Nationwide Children’s Hospital won — thanks to its work in the burgeoning field of genomics — and the judges said the hospital’s response was head and shoulders above the rest.

Research and staying at the industry forefront is the lifeblood of elite organizations like Nationwide Children’s.

“The way I often describe it to lay audiences is that you have two choices: you can either take your child to a place where the practitioners all read the latest textbooks and do exactly what the textbooks say, or you can take your child to the place that writes the textbooks,” says Dr. Steve Allen, CEO at Nationwide Children’s. “Generating new knowledge through research gives you the credibility to write the textbooks, and that’s who we need to be.”

The best business advice Allen ever received was that your aim should be to disrupt the competitive landscape by changing how people view your industry.

In children’s health care, you’re not competing for patients, but for talent and mindshare. You need to be writing the textbooks.

“If all you’re going to do is to be as good as the No. 1 or No. 2 in your industry, you’ve already lost the game,” he says. “Your aim should be to change the competitive landscape.”

At Nationwide Children’s, which now employs more than 11,000 people, there’s no status quo.

Allen says the hospital is always investing in the next generation of knowledge through research, upgrading its services, developing new products and training the next generation of providers, in order to keep teaching the rest of the country what it means to be a children’s health care organization.

Lead the way

So, what does it take to stay on the forefront? Hard work. A culture of accountability. Luck. All of the above?

Nationwide Children’s continually looks at where the science and industry are going, in order to make strategic bets on where it thinks it can make a difference, Allen says.

For example, over time it acquired innovative programs that have helped form the building blocks of a world-class genomics programs. Now, he says the hospital believes it’s time to make a larger investment and develop a much more robust research program.

“The human genome was first sequenced a dozen and a half years ago at the cost of about $3 billion, and now we can do that exact same thing with current technology for about $1,000,” Allen says. “So the rate at which technology has accelerated — to be able to bring this to something that’s more likely to impact decisions at the bed side and drive therapy — it’s just much more tangible now.”