Providers can create environment to promote health care innovation

May 15, 2016


Providence Health & Services wanted to drive innovation throughout its five-state service area, so it turned to a leader from the digital world to guide Providence's work in technology improvement.

Aaron Martin, Providence senior vice president of strategy and innovation, is a former executive who built the online shopping company's self-publishing and print-on-demand business.

Dr. Rod Hochman, Providence's president and chief executive, hired Martin in 2014 to the Renton, Wash.-based health care system to improve the patient experience through technology investments and by strategizing ways to keep the health care system linked to patients between episodes of care.

Martin will describe ways to encourage health system innovation during an Innovation Forum session at the Catholic Health Assembly, June 5 to 7, in Orlando, Fla.


What did you learn at Amazon that has been helpful in thinking about innovation at Providence?

When Rod and I first started discussing the role, we talked about the implications in health care of consumers having more of a voice in how health care is delivered. Consumers are voting with their pocketbooks, because of the changes with the Affordable Care Act that mean consumers' health care choices affect their out-of-pocket costs. He was, of course, interested in my work related to consumers and digital products. He was much more interested in business model disruption.

Part of my Amazon work related to Kindle (Amazon's e-reader). Rod was interested in what Jeff Bezos ('s chairman, president and chief executive) thought about the potential for cannibalizing his own very profitable, very successful online (print) book business with a digital business. It fundamentally came down to one thing. If you create disruption, and you're leading it as an industry incumbent, you get a vote in the future. If you don't, if you leave it to third parties to come in and change the game for you, you have less control over the outcomes.

Can you give an example of creative disruption?

When Rod and I were first talking about me coming on board, he asked me, "How would you disrupt our business if you were approaching it the way Amazon would?" I said, "Well, it would be pretty easy, because you don't have a relationship with your most significant customer — the 25- to 35-year-old female who has either started a family or is thinking about starting a family. How do you stay relevant to her as she makes care decisions for her and for her family for years to come? What we've done is … deployed a moms and baby app called Your Village that is integrated into the health system. It uses curated content, products and services to help her through pregnancy, birth and transitioning to being a new mom. It is also integrated into our scheduling system so patients can see their upcoming appointments.

To give you an idea of how successful it's been, we were going to recruit 200 patients over an eight-week period for a pilot, a slow build up. We filled the pilot within 24 hours, and now have 500 patients on the platform and had to close the pilot to additional users. We don't want too many patients on the platform on a pilot basis. There's definitely demand for these types of services. It leverages the fact that consumers trust their health system and they trust their doctor.

How has Providence Health & Services organized employees to promote innovation?

I have three teams that report to me. The venture team looks for external innovations and brings them in internally. The second team is called a digital innovation group. They build technology, acting like an internally focused software development company. They do everything from software development engineering to product management to commercialization. They're building the infrastructure on top of our enterprise software partners like Epic and Lawson to enable us to quickly integrate these new technologies into a consistent user experience for both consumers and clinicians. The third team is the consumer innovation group. Their goal is to keep the health system relevant between episodes of care.

How do you position Providence's $150 million venture fund to drive innovation within Providence?

Providence Ventures is the way we source innovation externally at a high level. We tend to work very closely with these companies prior to making an investment. We've made eight investments; six of them we worked with the company for greater than six months prior to making the investment. At any given time, we have about 20 to 25 technology pilots running across the system. In some cases, we have a very successful pilot and then make an investment, but in other instances we have not because the investment terms don't make sense to us. In some cases, two of the six, we didn't pilot the technology before making the investment. It just depends on the situation as to how we approach the investment opportunity.

What are a few of the innovations Providence Ventures invests in that our readers might not know about yet?

We've got Kyruus. They organize and create a better provider search and match, using provider information. The problem they're solving is that it's typically very hard to match the right provider to the patient. There's several reasons why it's difficult. One is because the data is not especially robust or clean or accurate. Kyruus takes care of that. They also use technology to inform the search and match process and make it more accurate. Over time, say that we see somebody who needs a knee replacement, you can inform the search and match with data around who has done the most procedures, who is the most experienced, best outcomes, that kind of thing. They also distribute that data and syndicate it to other parties like health plans. This is a single source, so when you're distributing the data, everyone's getting the right, most accurate data.

We just made an investment in a company called Gauss Surgical. They provide a blood loss monitoring solution. So today what happens is, believe it or not, surgeons don't have access to precise measurements of the amount of blood loss in a procedure.

This includes technology where you point an iPad at a sponge and, based on algorithms, it tells you how much blood is lost by the patient. It's a big deal because a lot of unnecessary transfusions occur. It's not just a cost issue, it's a patient safety issue.


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