How to Develop an Innovation Strategy

As Chief Innovation Officer at UnityPoint Health, Matt Warrens guides the healthcare system through a crowded and complex landscape.

A recent survey of 100 health system executives found that only 6% have a “fully developed” digital health strategy. Iowa-based UnityPoint Health could well fit into that category, with a $100 million venture fund aimed at driving consumer-driven digital transformation and a chief innovation officer who has a good track record. idea of ​​the way forward.

But this path is not always clear.

“If it gets easy, then we’re probably doing something wrong,” says Matt Warrens.

Warrens, who spent approximately 20 years at OSF HealthCare, including as vice president of health system innovation partnerships, joined UnityPoint in 2018 and, within a year, he helped launch the venture capital fund to advance innovation. It came at a crucial time for the network of 21 hospitals serving Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin, as the pandemic was just beginning to clamp down on health care and health systems struggled to adopt and to adapt to digital health.

“Health systems are notoriously slow” to embrace new ideas like digital care, he says. But in a changing world driven by new technologies and consumer demand, they need to be more agile and embrace platforms that improve care delivery outside of the hospital.

Matt Warrens, chief innovation officer at UnityPoint Health. Photo courtesy of UnityPoint Health.

Two years later, COVID-19 is a nagging but fading concern. UnityHealth’s program has invested in 13 digital health companies, which Warrens is careful to say aren’t necessarily start-ups but “scalable solutions.” In fact, 12 of those 13 now have commercial contracts with the health system.

It’s Warren’s job to lead the team that screens potential candidates to find digital health solutions that go beyond the pilot phase. He estimates that they have reviewed 650 companies over the past year and average about one investment per 100 companies.

“We have a dedicated team managing the venture capital fund,” he says. “They are brought into our organization with the venture capital experience to do that. There are a lot of organizations that try to do venture capital investing, and if you don’t have a dedicated team and experienced people to do the proper due diligence, that’s a hard thing to do because there’s a lot of opportunity.”

“What is unique about what we do is on the strategic side,” he adds. “We have a dedicated team, primarily made up of project managers and IT nurses, who work with our leaders in the organization once we have made a financial investment to help scale this solution onto UnityPoint.”

Warrens says it’s important for him and his team to know what different departments in the healthcare system are doing and what they’re looking for in new technologies or services. They will ask department heads not only what they need, but also what they would like to have.

“Innovation is a culture for our organization, and it’s embedded in every strategic aspect of what we do,” he says.

But he also needs to know and be able to inform those within the health system of what is happening outside the network. In today’s rapidly changing healthcare ecosystem, it’s a big sandbox with lots of new players.

“The world doesn’t work like it used to, where things start at the coast and move towards the middle,” he says. “If Amazon launches primary care, it will happen in Iowa. Walmart, Walgreens, United Healthcare, they all have innovation strategies, and it’s important to know what they’re doing as well so that we’re helping our leaders to understand those threats, and then come up with the innovation opportunities that we think can compete with them. We’re not competing with the hospital across the street anymore, are we? It’s a different world today.

According to Warrens, UnityPoint’s innovation strategy focuses primarily on two types of technologies: tools or platforms that make the healthcare process smoother for patient-consumers, and solutions that facilitate the delivery healthcare for healthcare providers.

“What we’re seeing coming out of the pandemic is that this staffing crisis isn’t going to go away, so what can we do to help out there?” he says. “And that could be about recruiting, [or] it could be about retention, [or] it could be more efficient planning. But also because the crisis is not going to go away and we are going to continue to meet this challenge, it has accelerated the opportunities around what we can automate.”

As for improving the process for consumers and patients, Warrens said the 21st Interoperability, information blocking, and the Century Cures Act ONC Health IT Certification Program, abbreviated as the Interoperability Rule, are generating a lot of interest in the technology that allows the consumer to easily access medical records. and share them. It has also forced healthcare providers to be more aware of what the patient wants.

For example, UnityPoint is partnering with Baltimore-based b.well Connected Health to use the company’s “digital transformation platform,” which leverages FHIR-based APIs to collect data from a variety of locations. , such as EMR, digital health devices, wearables and other sites. Consolidating this data in one place gives patients access to everything on one platform, giving providers the tools to analyze the data to identify gaps in care.

“Organizations like ours need to put things in place that are more open and adaptable to you, the consumer, to the technology and the choices you’ve made compared to what a lot of healthcare systems have been doing for decades. i.e. “Hey, patients, this is the way we want it done. This is the only way you have to do it,” he says. “That’s what we need to do better.”

Warrens says the industry is moving from endpoint solutions to enterprise-wide products, with more emphasis on integration with other platforms to address complex health issues, such as multiple chronic diseases, behavioral health and social determinants of health. And there is more interest in partnerships and collaborations, not just with providers but with payers, pharmacists and specialty care providers.

These trends offer a clue as to how health care should evolve, he says. The healthcare landscape is buzzing, with many ideas coming from outside of healthcare and a general feeling that providers are struggling to keep up with the new competition.

Not so fast, Warrens said.

“For someone who’s been in this industry for 25 years, when you see Amazon, or Berkshire Hathaway, or whatever, make an announcement like, ‘Hey, we’re going into healthcare,’ I I’m just, like, ‘Okay good luck.’ It’s really hard,” he said.

“And what happens is they get in there, and they’re like, ‘Wow, this is really complicated, it’s way too regulated, the margins are tiny. They probably have to make a tough, quick decision like, “Oh, okay. That was a mistake. I’m fine.” “

Eric Wicklund is the technology editor for HealthLeaders.

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