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‘Transformation Lab’ Extends Culture of Innovation at Intermountain

August 20, 2013
by David Raths
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Marc Probst, CIO of Intermountain Healthcare

Intermountain Healthcare has opened a Healthcare Transformation Lab in Salt Lake City, where it is partnering with several information technology companies, including Xi3, Intel and Dell. Initiatives under way include a “Patient Room of the Future,” featuring advanced patient-monitoring technologies. 

Marc Probst, Intermountain’s chief information officer and vice president, said one of the key benefits of such a lab is continuing to foster a culture of innovation at 22-hospital Intermountain. “We have 34,000 employees, any one of whom may have great ideas, but nowhere to take them,” he said. “This gives them an outlet to take those ideas to the next step and build prototypes.”

Probst said the lab has grown gradually from an initial request by Fred Holston, Intermountain’s chief technology officer.

“About three years ago, Fred came to me and asked for the budget for a soldering iron and some circuit boards and a closet to work on some things,” Probst said. “We were known for innovating around data and analytics but not so much around medical devices and servers. As this lab of his gradually expanded, we started to see it take shape as a vehicle for us to work with partners on gaps in technology and help those partners align their technologies for healthcare.”

Other vendor partners working with the lab include CenturyLink, NetApp, and Sotera Wireless. The lab grew from a closet to a conference room to a former furniture store to a refurbished building located on the campus of Intermountain’s flagship hospital, Intermountain Medical Center, in Murray, Utah.

Overall the lab’s 40 employees now have approximately 20,000 square feet of space to work in. Holston described the space as designed for collaborative work, including a briefing center where customers and partner organizations can meet and talk about ideas, as well as a large, open warehouse space in the former furniture store where employees can test out ideas and do demonstrations. 3D printers are being used to produce prototypes of medical devices and equipment for testing and clinical purposes.

He said that most of the ideas worked on in the lab would likely come not from its engineers but from Intermountain’s clinical leaders in areas such as telemedicine and diabetes care.  

One of the first innovations to come out of the lab is a hand-washing sensor device that can be worn like a watch by hospital physicians, nurses and other caregivers. Demonstrated at the HIMSS13 conference in New Orleans, the device positively re-enforces proper hand hygiene to reduce infections. The lab also has worked with clinicians to develop a “life detector” that alerts caregivers of changes to patients’ vital signs, in or out of medical facilities.

Both the lab is separate from the 60-employee Homer Warner Center for Informatics Research, also located at Intermountain Medical Center, although both report to Information Systems, Probst said.

The goal is that after the initial funding to set it up, the lab’s projects will garner sponsorship funding from outside partners or generate revenue to help make the lab self-sustaining. He said the partnership deals are with the lab, not with Intermountain as a whole. That makes the contractual aspect of the deals less complex to manage than long-term co-development partnerships, such as the one Intermountain had with GE Healthcare.

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