On Thursday morning, senior leaders from the Cedars-Sinai health system in Los Angeles shared insights on their organization’s initiative that is focused on accelerating healthcare technology solutions, with attendees gathered at the Sofitel Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills, for the Health IT Summit in Beverly Hills, sponsored by Healthcare Informatics.
Richard V. (Rick) Riggs, M.D., vice president and CMIO, enterprise information services, at Cedars-Sinai, and Omkar Kulkarni, director of the Health Innovation Accelerator at Cedars-Sinai, shared with the Health IT Summit audience their organization’s pioneering work in accelerating healthcare IT solutions into the marketplace, and how their initiative connects to the overall mission of the organization.
As Dr. Riggs and Kulkarni shared with the audience Thursday morning in their morning keynote presentation, “Necessity, The Mother Of Invention: The Cedars-Sinai Approach to Innovation,” they and their colleagues began “five or six years ago” to partner with healthcare IT vendors, to support worthy vendors in testing out solutions that might help to improve patient care delivery and hospital and health system operations. Out of those early efforts was borne the Cedars-Sinai Accelerator initiative, which is helping to foster innovation in some very specific ways.
Importantly, Riggs and Kulkarni told their audience on Thursday morning, Cedars-Sinai leaders distinguish between what some patient care organizations are doing, as technology incubators or test beds, and being an accelerator. In the former case, hospital system leaders and individuals are involved in the very initial work of solution concepting and development; in the latter situation, hospital organization leaders and individuals are not involved in the initial concepting or development, but rather, in accelerating the development of a solution into market readiness. The latter is operative at Cedars. As Riggs put it, “The innovation is where it starts, and becomes today’s news, but then there’s adaptation around it, and it becomes tomorrow’s normal. And you have to start; you have to risk innovating first.”
How has everything played out at Cedars? Kulkarni told attendees that “It’s challenging for an organization to strategically prioritize and select from among the many potential innovative technologies, which ones we want to try out. But in 2014, we started a venture fund with Memorial Care [in Torrance, Calif.], and that was our first foray in partnering with digital health companies to help them launch solutions. That worked well for us. And we realized about two-and-a-half years ago that we liked that, wanted to do it more, faster, and at scale.”
As a result, he said, “We realized we wanted to do it faster, more regularly, and more systemically. So we created the Cedars-Sinai Accelerator, Powered by Techstars. What is the Accelerator? It’s a program we created, focused on working with the best of the best digital health entrepreneurs, looking to take their product and scale it into an enterprise-facing provider program. We worked closely with our partners at Techstars to put the program together. You’ve heard of incubators and accelerators,” he said. “From our perspective, the arc starts with somebody having an idea. And many times those ideas are just thrown away and aren’t worked on; but a small percentage are developed into an at least minimally viable product, and people quit their jobs and form a company; and they may get some initial pilots, etc., and get some funding. That’s the point at which we engage,” he said. “We’re not looking at ideas waiting to be made into products, we’re looking at products that have already been created.”
Speaking of the process by which solutions providers are welcomed into the program, Kulkarni said, “We evaluate 500 or so companies from around the world that are interested in partnering. By the end of the program, we accelerate their growth, help them with fundraising, and help them connect with other organizations. We’re in the third month of this program now. It’s a 90-day program. We ask companies to pick up and move to LA for at least three months. And the building is next to the Sofitel here. And so we have a dedicated space, and the companies spend time here.”
Meanwhile, one key component or the program, Kulkarni noted, is “customized mentorship. We ask them, what are you trying to achieve in three months that you might otherwise need two years for? And who can we pull together to help these companies? So we pull together an external team, and we help them do everything from product, to product market fit, pricing, how to do a pilot, etc. And over the course of three months, many have the opportunity to learn a great deal.”
And, speaking of the mission and vision of the program, Kulkarni went on to say, “Why did we create this program? At the core, we are trying to provide the best, safest, and most efficient quality of care to our patients; and doing so involves working with really innovative technology. However, doing so requires a structure. So we’ve done that, partnering with companies from around the world, and work with them to see which ones do well. And those that do do well, we’re able to deploy their solutions across our organization. And in the process, we’re building this culture of innovation across the clinical staff and employees.”
In that sense, Kulkarni and Riggs underscored, the Accelerator program is closely connected to Cedars-Sinai’s overall focus on innovation along multiple dimensions, from patient care delivery to academic research, to technology development that supports both of those phenomena.
Of course, Cedars-Sinai’s leaders are not working in a vacuum in this ongoing effort. They are partnering with Techstars, the Boulder, Colo.-based company that is working across multiple industries, worldwide, to incubate and accelerate useful technology development. Speaking of Techstars, Kulkarni noted that
“They have more than 30 programs around the world, on almost every continent. They basically build programs focused on helping entrepreneurs succeed. Some programs are industry-agnostic and could be in any industry. For example, there is a Los Angeles Techstars program that’s industry-agnostic, and focused on LA. They also have vertical programs—a program with Ford, with Target, with Barclays, focused on retail, fin-tech, etc., Cedars is their exclusive healthcare vertical partner. This company now has a market capital of $7.8 billion. They’re a world-class accelerator, and we’re excited to work with them to build this program on our end.”
To date, 28 companies have gone through the ten-month program, in two years. Among the solutions that have been accelerated, have been ones around patient engagement, improving efficiency, care coordination, and text messaging between providers.
Riggs described a communications solution from a startup called “Well,” noting that “Not only did they do great in our program; they were also able to deploy t heir solution across our clinical enterprise.” Indeed, he noted, “That application is communicating with patients 100,000 times a month now. The decrease in phone calls and staff time has been significant,” he noted. “It allows our staff to do things that are more patient care-related, as opposed to administrative. And another startup, Deep Six, is looking at artificial intelligence for clinical trials.” What is particularly helpful in these partnerships, he said, is that “The reality is that many of these startups have touched healthcare, but really don’t understand it at a granular level. This program allows them to test their ideas and get support and insights.”
Meanwhile, he added, “It’s an important incentive for our organization to really stay closely connected with each company. And we feel very strongly about our mission—so we have an equity-back guarantee. If any company doesn’t full they’ve gotten what they needed, we pay them back the 6-percent equity we’ve invested in them.” The program, both men agreed, will continue forward, as its successes to date have affirmed for Cedars-Sinai leaders the value of the partnering role the health system can continue to play, in partnering to improve care delivery and healthcare operations.