Leveraging the "living laboratory": on the emergence of the entrepreneurial hospital

Soc Sci Med. 2012 Aug;75(4):717-24. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2012.04.010. Epub 2012 May 5.


For years, scholars have debated the "commercial ethos" in higher education, and the rise of the entrepreneurial university. But what of the "entrepreneurial hospital"? Largely unnoticed by scholars, this unique organisational form differs from the entrepreneurial university in some significant ways, not least in its capacity to use its innovations, and to count patients-and even patient populations-amongst its human capital. Accordingly, this article provides an initial conceptualisation of the entrepreneurial hospital, along with an exploration of its larger implications. Using twenty-six semi-structured interviews with key-informants (2008-2009), who work in two networked organisations within a single academic health science system in a Canadian province, our analysis identifies distinctive characteristics of an entrepreneurial hospital. Informed by grounded theory, especially situational analysis, we derive from our data an illustration of potentially incommensurate understandings of the entrepreneurial hospital's resources. On one hand, our study participants view patients and patient populations as a resource for research, linking its value to the contribution it can make to improved, more cost-effective care. On the other hand, some also see commercial potential in this resource. In both cases, exploitation is accompanied by perceived obligations to make proper use of patient populations, and to "give back" to the public-at-large, including through the entrepreneurial search for new ways of mobilising the resources of publicly-funded health care. Thus, a key task of the entrepreneurial hospital is to invent and mediate new uses for its care infrastructure and the unique resource constituted by patient populations. By drawing together care and research in new ways, the entrepreneurial hospital promises increased capacity for biomedical innovation. Yet, as it invents and mediates new uses for patient populations and health care infrastructure, the entrepreneurial hospital stands to significantly redefine both systems of care and the bonds of social solidarity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biomedical Research*
  • Canada
  • Delivery of Health Care / organization & administration*
  • Entrepreneurship*
  • Hospital Administration*
  • Humans
  • Qualitative Research