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Health Systems Join Innovation Cohorts

October 14, 2014
by David Raths
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Chicago-based AVIA brings execs together to identify ecosystem of early-stage solutions to specific problems
Cedar Sinai's Darren Dworkin

As healthcare systems seek to become more nimble and to figure out how to work with earlier-stage startups, several have joined “innovation cohorts” set up by AVIA, a Chicago-based healthcare accelerator with an impressive client list. AVIA, launched in 2013, also recently announced a partnership with HIMSS called HX360 that will focus on the adoption of next-generation technologies to solve specific issues.

Among the organizations working with AVIA are Sutter Health, Cedars Sinai, Mayo Clinic, Providence Health & Services, St. Francis Care, UCLA and NorthShore University HealthSystem.

“Healthcare has been painfully slow at adopting new technologies,” said Darren Dworkin, Cedar Sinai Health System's chief information officer and AVIA executive-in-residence. “One reason is that healthcare is complicated and it takes longer for solutions to be available.” But rather than waiting for perfect or fully baked systems, AVIA is trying to help providers identify an ecosystem of earlier stage companies. “It is not really obvious how to engage with those companies,” he said, “and AVIA has an opportunity to fill that gap and get newer technologies to health systems earlier than they otherwise would.”

Dworkin is leading an innovation cohort that launched in October to look at solutions to enhance the patient experience. (A cohort is a group of health systems working together on a problem, Dworkin said.) Besides looking at potential innovations in the market, AVIA will be supporting internal innovation efforts at NorthShore by evaluating the commercialization potential of internally developed innovation initiatives. 

“One of the things AVIA has its put finger on is that not every health system has to figure everything out on its own,” Dworkin said. “I realize there are competitive issues, but if you get past those, there are a lot of common problems we need to figure out and there are so many smart people in different organizations, and the idea of bringing them together to identify solutions seems logical.”

AVIA, which recently raised $6 million from investors, including Chicago-based Jump Capital and existing investors 7-Wire Ventures and Jumpstart Ventures, also recently hired Linda Finkel, a former Accretive Health executive, as president. Eric Langshur is the company’s CEO. On its web site, the company says its business model is sourcing emerging solutions that best match providers’ needs. It shares market intelligence on a range of companies that fit specific requirements and occasionally AVIA will directly invest in companies that have significant potential. Its revenue comes from annual dues collected from the innovator network as well as from the success of companies it invests in.

Roy Smythe, M.D., who is also AVIA’s chief medical officer, has been appointed CEO of HX360, the partnership with HIMSS. HX360 has identified eight areas in healthcare delivery that can benefit from next-generation technologies and where health systems have indicated they are ready to invest:

• Existing patient retention
• New patient acquisition
• Patient experience improvement
• Primary care provider efficiency
• Post-acute care management
• Care coordination for chronic conditions
• Mandated quality metrics improvement
• Supply chain optimization

In its partnership with HIMSS, Smythe said, the focus is on a fairly narrow band of issues and solutions. “We picked areas where we know there are emerging technologies developed and early stage companies that can be used and tried but are not yet widely adopted,” he said. Other areas, where there aren’t many solutions or where health systems have signaled they are not ready to move yet, are not on the list. “For instance, there are 100 companies starting out in pharmacogenomics. But most health systems don’t want to buy pharmacogenomics platforms now,” Smythe explained. “Will they in the future? Yes. Will pharmacogenomics or individualized medicine be on this list next year or the year after? Quite possibly. But outside a few institutions, that is not what they want to spend money on right now.”

The organization is also developing an “HX360 Index” to help health systems gauge their readiness to adopt new technologies. The seven components are next-generation technology adoption and use, innovation capacity, degree of care integration, payment model, quality and safety organization, financial performance, and IT foundational preparedness. The plan is to index health systems by using publicly reported data and encourage them to contribute data as well. HX360 will index them at no cost, and seek to work with them to improve scores over time. It will also hold meetings and provide consulting services throughout the year, he said.