This New And Growing Network Of Hospitals Could Change American Health Care


Photo: flickr/usarmy

Hospitals have incredible potential locked inside of them. Their doctors, nurses, and other employees are highly educated and highly trained in the second largest industry in the United States, yet most of them spend their days doing similar jobs, over and over again.We’ve already written about how the Cleveland Clinic has worked to unlock that potential, building a startup accelerator right on its campus. They’ve built companies in a variety of areas, including one working on an implant that treats migraines. 

But what has real potential is the fact that they’re taking 20 years of figuring out how to get the best ideas out of their employees, turning them into products and companies, and bringing them to some of the country’s biggest hospital systems. 

Chris Coburn, the Executive Director of Cleveland Clinic Innovations, has high hopes for the growing network. “It’s a big new development for us, about 2 years old,” Coburn said. “We’re now running our function for other health care systems.”

Bringing the tools to invent to hospitals with thousands of people, from day one

It’s hard to convince surgeons to take time out of their days to think about new inventions. It’s even harder to take that idea, develop it, and legally protect it, especially when you have no experience doing so. Intellectual property for devices is particularly complicated, and since hospitals do the proof of concept, and turn ideas over for development and trials, negotiations get very involved. 

Hiring a ready-made system has the potential to rapidly accelerate the rate at which hospitals produce inventions and startups. 

“The basic decision for them is buy versus build, and you can just imagine how hard it is to make these things go. It’s complicated. You have to stick to it, it’s a very a long list,” Coburn said. “So they look at this and they say, ‘OK, I’m going to hire the Cleveland Clinic, I’m going to spend about the same amount of money that I would have had to if I did this on my own.’ And the day they show up, all of these systems, all of these best practices, everything that they’ve figured out, I get on that very first day.”

It means access to people with extensive backgrounds in venture capitalism, and in the very industries who are looking for these new sources of innovation.

As of right now, the system has been adopted by MedStar, the largest hospital system in the D.C. Baltimore area; North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System, the largest provider in New York; and a $2.5 billion system in Western Ohio, among others. More deals are in progress.

The impact is rapid. The year before MedStar brought the Cleveland Clinic on board to help build their system, they had no disclosures of possible ideas from their staff. The year after, they had more than 100.

The five year hope is to become a “nationally significant element of US health care”

According to Coburn, this is just the beginning. When asked where he sees things going in five years, and he outlined an impressive vision: “I think this innovation alliance will have about 15 institutions that will be operating in a cohesive system with us,” he said. “Right now, we’re going to have a record year for inventions coming form the Clinic, about 280 by the end of the year. When you add in those innovation alliance partners, just this year, that’s about another 100. But I could easily see a circumstance where we’re going to see 600 to 800 inventions a year, which we will be managing in this system and bringing to investors and industries in a reliable, predictable way in the sense of what they’ll see.”

That last part is huge. When you have many different places trying to break out inventions in many different ways and at many different stages, it means a lot more work for the people trying to fund or buy it. Doing it in a predictable way could make things faster and more efficient. The types of things venture capitalists and pharmaceutical companies would be looking at won’t change, but the preparation and expertise are leagues better. 

“You know the technology won’t be different of course, but the stage of progression, industry knows what they’re getting. The industry knows for certain how the exchange for us would work,” Coburn said. “On the flip side, the industry knows they can come to us as a means to getting back out to all of these institutions. We see that alliance as something that has not existed in the past. If we run it right, it’s going to have a lot of momentum as more and more things feed back to it, and all of the enabling technology, whether it’s the coming ubiquity of electronics or genetic mapping, all of these things factor in to whether we synthesize this, and we’re basically representing systems that, all told, have 25 million patients in their systems.”

It could mean more inventions, a better and easier commercialization process, and an increasing level of collaboration. 

According to Coburn, it could be “a nationally significant element of US health care, not the Cleveland Clinic itself, but the network.”

The network has the potential to go beyond commercialization, and bridge a big innovation gap

Something that could have an even broader impact is bringing some of the cost reduction and health care innovation that the Cleveland Clinic’s worked on to more hospitals around the country.

As this network grows, the hospitals can connect on things beyond just technology transfer. 

“I think it becomes a toehold for more collaboration both at MedStar and now, it looks like, at North Shore, but for other collaborative programs [that are] totally unrelated,” Coburn said. “[We have] clinical programs at MedStar. It’s already taking place. There’s a formal alliance across our cardiac care, and I would not be surprised to see that at North Shore.”

Learning how to give great care at lower costs is essential for the future of the country, and if that’s a side effect of a program where we get new and better health care technology, that’s a pretty great bonus.

New sources of ideas are particularly important because health care innovation has been slow and expensive. Unlocking the resources of these hospitals could help move things forward.

“What we’re all about is recognising what the reality of the current situation is,” Coburn said, “which is that big pharma and big device are looking for things to be de-risked, to be figured out for them in as many ways as possible.”

This network could be a uniquely large and effective way of doing that. 

NOW READ: Hospitals Could Create The Next Big Wave Of Health Care Tech And Startups

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