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Fostering Innovation From Within: Lessons From Johns Hopkins and Partners HealthCare

November 9, 2015
by David Raths
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Teams of designers, engineers and clinical leaders think outside the box

Not every large health system does a good job of creating a culture of innovation or commercializing a pipeline from within, but many have created centers of innovation to work on it. Speaking at the HIMSS Connected Health Conference in Washington, D.C., executives from Johns Hopkins Medical System in Baltimore and Partners HealthCare in Boston talked about how they encourage the growth of an ecosystem of creative minds and spur that creativity.

Paul Nagy, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Medicine Technology Innovation Center, talked about how his organization brings together teams of designers, developers, architects and analysts work with inventors to build, deploy, and evaluate clinical IT innovations within the Johns Hopkins Medical System.

“Innovation requires collaborative genius,” he said. “If you are an inventor, the odds of you going it alone and succeeding are very small.”

He said their recipe at Johns Hopkins has been to build a software engineering team within a medical system and create a leadership program for clinicians to help them transform the system. The nine-month program provides training for future leaders within Johns Hopkins Medicine to apply advanced clinical analytics to transform the safety and quality of care. "Clinicians who apply for the program are often frustrated and looking for tools to map out and attack problems they have identified. We need clinical partners to pull us into their clinical environment,” Nagy said. “They can partner with our engineering teams.”

Another program, called the Hexcite initiative, brings new health IT ideas in the clinical space to market by leveraging Baltimore’s technology community and pairing it with the university academic networks.

Most of the applications developed are applications that improve provider efficiency or patient safety. One example is PING, a secure, HIPAA-compliant, Web-based platform for mobile messaging. Johns Hopkins Medicine employees send over 10,000 messages weekly via PING. Another called REACH (Radiology Enabling and Collaborating in Healthcare) provides a mechanism for clinicians and radiologists to look at the same images and collaborate in real time through a teleconsultation session on their iPads.

Nagy said the clinicians help engineers understand the human factors and non-linear work flow of the clinical settings. Ideas can be great but if they are not well integrated into the work flow, they won’t be adopted. “We have a saying ‘If it is not clinically integrated, it doesn’t exist,’” he added.

Troy Keyser, health information technology manager within the business development team at Partners Innovation, talked about his focus on expanding health information technology adoption within and outside of Partners HealthCare. 

Keyser talked about how Partners Innovation has developed a structure for tracking and evaluating the innovations going on throughout the health system. With health IT possibilities exploding, Partners needed to be able to prioritize which innovations to support, and the decision making has changed in the shift from fee-for-service to value-based purchasing. “What were profit centers in the fee-for-service world have become cost centers, and what to commercialize is fundamentally different,” he said.

Using Salesforce software, Partners created a system to record every single innovation that comes to their attention and categorize them in different HIT value nodes such as remote patient monitoring, remote diagnostics and virtual visits. They try to determine how evolved it already is. Has it been scientifically validated? What traction have they had within Partners? Is it a concept only or are 200 people in a Partners department already using it? What funding sources do they have and how much?

He added that Partners also works with outside vendors to improve their products and share intellectual property. One example is Health Catalyst, which is building an analytics engine for accountable care organizations through a deep collaboration with the population health management department at Partners.