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In Minneapolis, the Spotlight is on “The Silicon Valley of the Midwest”

April 9, 2018
by Pamela Tabar
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Medical Alley’s cross-sector membership allows for all of its members to learn from each other’s expertise

One of the busiest hotbeds of healthcare IT innovation isn’t in California or Washington, D.C.—it’s in Minneapolis.

Nicknamed “the Silicon Valley of the Midwest,” the Medical Alley is a collaborative healthcare innovation group that boasts more than 650 members, including some of healthcare IT’s biggest players. Founded as an association in 1984 by Medtronic, Boston Scientific, 3M Healthcare, Abbott and others, the group primarily served the device manufacturing side of the industry at first. “One-third of all medical device products ever approved by the Food and Drug Administration have come from Medical Alley,” says Shaye Mandle, president and CEO of the Medical Alley Association.

Today, the Medical Alley is the nation’s largest health-related association outside of Washington, D.C., and is one of the few to include all sectors of the healthcare industry—payers, providers, device manufacturers, pharmaceutical and biotech companies, diagnostics, and of course, all things digital health.

The Medical Alley continues to be a darling child for innovation investors, with its member companies topping more than $520 million in investments in 2017, according to the group’s 2017 Annual Health Tech Investment Report.

The Medical Alley is home to Mayo Clinic, the nation’s No. 1 hospital, and the largest U.S. private healthcare payer, UnitedHealthcare. True to its innovation think-tank roots, the group also includes some of the country’s most innovative and agile new startups, including Bright Health, Sansoro, and Zipnosis. The emergence of personalized medicine within the industry has welcomed members like Stemonix, Rebiotix and OneOme, who are on board to change the face of healthcare delivery.

Over the years, the group’s members have bonded together to battle IT’s legacy “siloed and proprietary” era, emerging as one of the few groups where all sectors can bring their efforts and interests to the same table. In that spirit, conversations on interfaces, interoperability and the value of business intelligence are always a top priority.

“On a day-to-day basis, we’re engaging our members in what new questions are coming up and evaluating how either the organization or other companies that are lacking the data for business intelligence can move ahead,” Mandle says. “There’s a real shift in value requiring everyone to examine different perspectives on who the customer is, because the consumers are going to drive everything. We’re also seeing exciting developments in personalized medicine, patient engagement platforms, expansions in clinical reach and greater interoperability among EHR [electronic health record] companies and device companies.”

As growing consumerism melds with new initiatives in population health, data analytics is seeing new and greater roles in the vendor mindset. Yet, many players in healthcare are still trying to determine the new definitions of value in the quickly changing healthcare landscape, Mandle notes. “Today, it’s much more than just looking at a specific market. It’s also about looking at how adjacent market sectors are approaching business intelligence and analyzing the more complex picture of how to connect those strategic dots on where healthcare companies need to be heading.”

Population health, especially among elderly and frail populations, is no longer just a buzzword—it’s increasingly becoming an important factor on the budget table. Medicare and Medicaid, as bellwethers of national payer trends, are increasingly focused on chronic disease management and wellness initiatives, while simultaneously shifting from fee-for-service to value-based reimbursement models. “The Medicare population is where the rubber meets the road in terms of qualifying some of these values and figuring out the really difficult challenges. We want to continue bringing new innovation into frail and chronic care patient populations, but we’re always talking about how to measure that value.”

That’s where the intrinsic value of the Medical Alley’s cross-sector membership comes in, allowing all members to learn from each other’s expertise. “For example, one member company may be focused on the provider side or the device side, but a member like UnitedHealthcare has more than a decade of claims data, so they're able to participate in value conversations a little bit differently,” Mandle explains. “If we all have access to enough business intelligence, we can see how the payers are looking at things and how the providers are looking at things. Then we can all see the opportunities in taking strategic steps in the same direction, and everyone gains better clarity.”

Breaking down healthcare’s silos and embracing communication across healthcare sectors is key to the Medical Alley’s mission. “We're trying to expand the group conversations, so everybody can see how the questions are answered and what different sectors are saying. It gives everyone a common operating picture that might help the changing definitions of value to make more sense,” Mandle offers. 

The Medical Alley also hosts partnerships and venture projects, such as the recent alliance between Boston Scientific and gBETA Medtech, which will support the journey of three new cohorts healthcare technology companies per year, providing Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota as research partners.

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