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Healthcare Field of Dreams In Idaho: Health System Opens Innovation Center

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Editor’s note: This guest post was written by Dave Chase, the CEO of Avado.com, a patient portal & relationship management company that was a TechCrunch Disrupt finalist. Previously he was a management consultant for Accenture’s healthcare practice and founder of Microsoft’s Health business. You can follow him on Twitter@chasedave.

Fifteen years ago the Internet was revolutionizing global communications and computing so companies were looking for the most advanced markets to test their technologies. Locales such as Korea and Singapore portended the future. Today, no less than reinvention of healthcare is taking place. A key question is which locales will provide a similar testbed for healthtech. It’s not always the obvious places.

Healthcare providers such as the Mayo Clinic have been at the vanguard of adopting new technologies and approaches. However, this remains a provider-centric approach and the Mayo Clinic has far more resources than a community hospital or clinic. Ultimately, a broader community-focused effort can demonstrate how new approaches can scale nationally across a wide array of settings. That is, an approach that spans all income and demographic sectors as well as a range from urban to rural settings.

Consider the case of the St. Luke’s Health System based in Boise, Idaho. Not only is Boise the home to an exciting college football program and HP’s Printer division, it has more diversity than one might imagine. For example, Dr. Ted Epperly is the recent past President of the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) and has a practice that has 48 languages spoken in it, as Boise is one of the key locations where refugees from war-torn countries are relocated.

St. Luke’s Wood River Valley two hours away in the mountains is located in the first destination ski resort in the country, Sun Valley. Though it’s a resort town, it serves a 5,000 square mile area that includes a recent AAFP doctor of the year who has to fly to remote communities a few times a week to serve his patients.  They also serve farming communities with a large immigrant workforce. In other words, St. Luke’s is a microcosm of the U.S. healthcare system with large city hospitals down to small remote clinics. This opportunity hasn’t been lost on individuals who have a strong motivation to provide nationwide leadership.

Dr. David Pate is the CEO of the health system and was named one of the most powerful physician executives by Modern Healthcare magazine.  One of the key reasons Dr. Pate joined St. Luke’s was he felt it was the ideal size and environment to reshape healthcare. St. Luke’s is big enough (with over $1 billion in operating budget) yet not too big where it’s exceedingly difficult to effect change. He hired Tony Tomazic who came out of one of the most successful innovation centers within the payor community, Humana. Tomazic was named the Chief Transformation Officer to provide day-to-day leadership of the transformation.

More recently, Tomazic hired a biotech entrepreneur and venture capitalist, Bill Boeger, to help run the Center for Healthcare Innovation based out of the Wood River Valley area. One way Boeger described his charter is to develop St. Luke’s next hospital. However, this “hospital” would be one without walls. While businesses consider necessary changes brought on by health reform, The Center for Healthcare Innovation is challenged to think 2-10 years out.

Whether it’s mobile devices, telehealth, patient engagement tools, or new care & payment models, St. Luke’s will lead in a living laboratory. We’ve already seen the first hospitals at home, but there’s sure to be more innovation to provide care beyond the typical healthcare facility.

The opportunity with St. Luke’s Center for Healthcare Innovation isn’t lost on some of the breakthrough thinkers in healthcare. Dartmouth has a new program that is first-of-its-kind providing a Master in Health Care Delivery Science with an extraordinary faculty and student base. As they state, “The problems of health care throughout the world are not primarily ones of medical knowledge or even political will but of effective management and execution.” One of their project locations will be in the Wood River Valley where they can put that philosophy to the test.

While Boeger is less than one month into his job, he’s already thinking through venture philanthropy models to accelerate exciting new projects. St. Luke’s can look to other non-profits who have successfully used a venture philanthropy model such as the MS Society. The Society’s “Fast Forward” program in its short existence has already demonstrated how it’s accelerating the commercialization of new therapies by helping companies bridge the gap from research to commercialization.

Donors are eager to support double bottom-line initiatives such as Fast Forward. With well-known VCs such as Bing Gordon, Doug Leone and many other highly successful entrepreneurs spending some or all of their time in the Sun Valley area, St. Luke’s is optimistic that a venture philanthropy model can help them make a major impact in their community and beyond.

There are innovation centers at pharmaceutical and insurance companies but they don’t possess the advantage of a direct connection with individuals and must take a broader view. By taking an approach that leads with the community and individuals, rather than an institution, there’s a great opportunity for technology companies to test their wares in the real world with St. Luke’s direct connection to individuals, community and business leaders critical to having a broad-based success.

Imagine St. Luke’s with a communications channel with a large swath of the individuals in their community as their trusted healthcare provider. The following are a few benefits that can be realized for their community, technology partners and St. Luke’s itself:

  • A baseline of individual’s health can be established to test the efficacy of diabetes, hypertension and other disease management programs as well as public awareness of various public health issues;
  • Non-traditional consumer-focused “prescriptions” such as a provider encouraging a patient to use a game such as Mindbloom or mobile application to improve their health can be tested to see if they are effective at improving health outcomes;
  • Transparency: not only are St. Luke’s clinicians able to communicate with their patients but so are the other health professionals in the community;
  • Providers realize that the most important member of the patient’s care team is the patient themselves as the 99% of their life when they are away from the healthcare provider is when they maintain or return to health. Providers are increasingly rewarded for positive health outcomes and penalized for negative outcomes (e.g., hospital readmits) so they need to learn what behaviors they can impact while the patient is away from their facility.

The “do more, bill more” model of healthcare reimbursement is being replaced by a model I refer to as Collaborative Care that is patient centric, accountable and coordinated – pretty much the opposite of what we’ve been. Led by a prominent physician/CEO who aspires to lead a transformation of a traditional health system, St. Luke’s is embarking on a multi-year journey that will be interesting to follow.

As the famous line from the Field of Dreams stated, “If you build it, he will come.” In this case, “he” will be the array of innovators looking to prove their mettle in the cities, towns, farmlands and mountains of Idaho. St. Luke’s has signaled they are “open for business” to the wide array of innovators reinventing healthcare.

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