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Innovating in Technology: Cleveland Clinic Keeps Moving Forward

September 8, 2013
by Mark Hagland
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On the eve of its Innovation Summit, Cleveland Clinic’s Gary Fingerhut articulates his organization’s tech development aspirations

A lot of things are happening at Cleveland Clinic, the large integrated health system based in Cleveland that encompasses 10 owned hospitals and one affiliate hospital, and 4,450 beds, plus more than 75 outpatient locations in northern Ohio, as well as more than 3,000 physicians and scientists, and 5.1 million patients a year. Long an innovator in many diverse patient care, research, and technology areas, this year, the organization is once again offering its annual Cleveland Clinic Innovation Summit, to be held this year on Oct. 14-16 at the organization’s main campus, and focused on the theme, “Finding Balance through Innovation: Obesity, Diabetes & the Metabolic Crisis.

Recently, Gary Fingerhut, acting executive director and general manager of HIT commercialization at Cleveland Clinic, spoke with HCI Editor-in-Chief Mark Hagland regarding the organization’s goals for the Innovation Summit, and his perspectives of technology and information technology development going forward. Below are excerpts from that interview.

What is your and your colleagues’ overall goal in hosting this event?

It’s a thought leadership program that will bring the clinical side and the investment side together. There’s a tremendous amount of thought leadership on both sides. And the theme this year is diabetes and obesity. And in the HIT space, we’ve been having a tremendous amount of activity, so we’re very excited; there will be a lot to talk about.

How many attendees are expected?

Over 1,000 attendees. And this is the first year that we will be at the Global Innovation Center. It’s a big event for our innovations group, but also for the city of Cleveland.

There are a small number of organizations like yourselves, Kaiser, Geisinger, and Intermountain Healthcare, that are becoming innovation centers, as is Cleveland Clinic. What is the role of organizations like yours in terms of meeting needs at a time when there aren’t a lot of off-the-shelf tools out there right now to meet needs like population health management?

From an innovation standpoint, our goal is to work with our alliance partners to provide better patient care through creating new solutions together. Obviously, we monetize that to sustain development. I’m not ashamed to say that; that’s part of the value proposition. But at the forefront of our inventors’ minds is innovation on behalf better patient care. And with the Cleveland Clinic Innovation Alliance Program, we also manage innovation for North Shore Long Island-Jewish and Medstar and Notre Dame, ProMedica, and others. We’ll send you a summary of that. And this is something that is really unique. This has allowed us to scale the operation across the country, but it also allows us to manage the trends that we’re seeing outside of just northeast Ohio. So we really have our finger on the pulse, even internationally—we’ve started to go outside the country to Ireland as well.

How long has the program been in existence?

A little over two years, I believe

What kinds of criteria are you using in terms of getting developers and vendors, involved?

Remember, the actual ideation is occurring through the clinicians; these are actually their ideas for improving outcomes or efficiency. It’s physicians, all clinicians, and all employees of the staff, actually. There’s a lot of activity in back-office functionality, for example. So it’s everything from research in therapeutics and devices, a lot of IT, a lot of process improvement; it comes from everywhere. The criteria we use: better patient outcomes and lower cost, as goals. But there are tactical criteria as well: is something protectable, so that we can manage the intellectual property; but we also have to make sure there’s a commercial market for it. So the process is very well-defined; it’s been in use for 13 years now at the Clinic, from the intake of the initial idea all the way to commercialization.

So it’s a very rigorous process?

Absolutely. That’s why developers are involved with us on this.

How many commercializable things will come out of the process?

We manage over 600 new ideas every year. And I can tell you in the last 13 years, we’ve spun off about 64 companies. And we manage 400 active licenses. So everything we do is going to go down one of two paths: a license or a new company. So, some examples. In the last couple of years, we’ve spun off a couple of IT companies. A great example is Explorys. Something also we’ve spun off is called iComet, which measures brain activity. We’ll send you a list of our most recent startups. These are organizations are really some of the cutting-edge technologies that we felt were platform technologies that deserved to be spun off into commercialization, in a number of spaces, such as the visual interaction with the EHR space, the traumatic brain injury space, the genomics space, the clinical decision support space. Our portfolio continues to grow. In fact, our HIT portfolios has grown from 8 percent to 20 percent of our innovation; so, a lot of technologies.

Do you believe that now is a good time to nurture this kind of innovation, as we shift to the new healthcare?

More than ever. In the value-based world, we’re focusing as an industry on quality over cost. And in fact, we’re seeing more opportunity than ever before. People are looking for ways to do things better and with greater scalability. So having things have a commercial market is icing on the cake.