Providers pursue innovation strategies to fill in tech gaps

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Leading healthcare organizations are actively pursuing innovation strategies to find new approaches for bringing digital health technologies to clinical practice.

These large organizations still are heavily dependent on technology from mainstream technology companies, but are seeking to fill gaps in care by supporting the development of innovative technologies.

Cedars-Sinai is using an accelerator to assist small companies in developing digital technology, said Darren Dworkin, CIO for the health system, during a session at the HTLH: The Future of Healthcare conference Monday in Las Vegas. He noted that the organization famously failed in efforts to develop its own information technology about 15 years ago.

“What we learned was that we didn’t want to be in the development business,” he said. “We buy 98 percent of what we use now, but when we have ‘white spaces’ (or specific niches for technology needs), we partner with companies. We’re just project managing; we’re project managing.”

The Cedars-Sinai innovation staff has four full-time technology experts; by contrast, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center employs more than 250 full-time staff working on innovative technologies, says Rasu Shrestha, MD, its chief innovation officer and executive vice president of UPMC Enterprises, the 40-hospital system’s development arm.

UPMC is looking to partner with companies to develop technology that fills unmet clinical needs and turn promising ideas into technology that works. For example, it’s looking to develop technology that can enable it to improve its ability to remotely monitor patients discharged from its inpatient facilities. As UPMC takes on more risk through value-based contracts, it will need technology that helps it manage patients in less expensive venues, Shrestha said.

“How can we make sure that we discharge patients, not just with a bag of pills, but with technology?” he added. “Our goal is to make sure that chronically ill patients hopefully never come back to our hospitals. We want to monitor their data with their permission, risk stratify the results and then give actionable insights back to the patients.”

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Boston Children’s Hospital uses its program launched its innovation program to bring promising ideas to widespread use, said John Brownstein, its chief innovation officer. “We lived in the land of pilot projects,” where ideas were tried in small tests but never got widely applied, he said. Now, its innovation program aims to take some of the best ideas and help them scale for broader use. It’s particularly interested in digital therapeutics or the use of gaming to help advanced treatment of its pediatric client base. It’s also helping develop technology that assists in the simple but essential task of ensuring that patients have appropriate access to transportation services that enable them to make medical appointments.

Sometimes, research helps find simple solutions that innovative neophyte companies can help develop. For example, Dworkin says its research with patients found that they indeed want texting capabilities with providers, but what they really want is the ability to text back to a physician’s staff—for example, to confirm or change appointments. “Most of the texting companies out there don’t let them text back,” he said, leading Cedars-Sinai to partner with a young company that enables simple yet effective patient-office staff communication.

It’s crucial to understand that healthcare delivery will radically shift over the next five to 10 years, Shresthra said, as consumers take on a bigger role in their own care. . “If we can engage those consumers, it will shift business models, and it’s clear that the business of healthcare is going to change.”

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