How CommonSpirit Health aims to change healthcare with strategic, purposeful innovation

CommonSpirit Health has a foundation in healthcare innovation.

Rich Roth Headshot 2018As a merger between Dignity Health and Catholic Health Initiatives, CommonSpirit has a culture of innovation and a history of integrating new ideas into the front lines of patient care.

Here, Senior Vice President and Chief Strategic Innovation Officer Rich Roth describes the health system's philosophy for testing new ideas and scaling them across the health system's locations in 21 states, 142 hospitals and beyond.

Q: What does it mean to lead innovation at CommonSpirit?

Rich Roth: I'm a big believer that the word 'innovation' means many things to different people. There is so much process innovation where we hear a great idea from teams of nurses, physicians, or other caregivers that improves care delivery, and a large percentage of innovation at CommonSpirit happens that way. We also developed an office of strategic innovation five years ago with the purposeful intent to look three to five years ahead and purposefully test and scale services and technologies that have the opportunity to fundamentally impact the future of the health care industry on an ongoing basis.

What we are looking at now is how to bring an idea in today and put real muscle behind it to transform health care. We want to implement ideas in a way that truly improves the health of populations across the country, as opposed to a test in one unit or geography.

Q: CommonSpirit made the conscious decision not to develop a dedicated innovation center. What was the idea and philosophy behind that decision?

RR: One of our key principles was integrated innovation from the beginning. We didn't want a freestanding innovation center that was separate from our care sites; instead, we wanted to differentiate our innovation by making everything we do exist in real workflows. We work with doctors and nurses in real clinical settings and communities to tackle big issues. By partnering with entrepreneurial companies, we test new ideas and processes in our facilities to see if they meet our expectations for improving quality and reducing the cost of care for the people who access our health system.

We are also measuring the impact of our work with these entrepreneurial companies on the health care delivery system as whole, with the goal to continuously learn and improve. Ultimately, we want to scale successful technologies and processes throughout CommonSpirit.

Our difference is that we aren't learning by reading reports by listening to industry speculation. Instead, we are learning by doing in our facilities in a manner that starts small and grows to scale.

Q: What key problems or issues are you solving with innovation at CommonSpirit?

RR: One of the secret sauces for innovation in healthcare is to introduce technologies within the clinicians’ workflow that reduce friction and solve challenges patients may face in accessing their healthcare. We also have to do this in a way that is economically viable and protects patients’ information.

An example of this is our work to demystify the digital therapeutic landscape, as we knew this technology could have a real impact on the health of patients and communities. One of our partners, Propeller Health, had developed a way to connect digital technology to an inhaler in order to give real-time information to patients and physicians who are struggling with diseases such as asthma. The technology notifies physicians if a patient is at risk for an asthma attack and connects patients with their doctors so we can intervene to help them avoid ED visits and hospital admissions.

We work to bring these technologies in and collaborate on further solution development. We also publish peer-reviewed outcomes data with our partner companies as examples for our industry of how these technologies can actually reduce the cost of care.

As CMS moves more toward value-based care, we have demonstrated over a 90-day episode of care that we can reduce the cost of care demonstrably, while improving quality results with the use of home care that can reduce length of stay. Our intent is always to scale successful, proven technologies across CommonSpirit.

Q: As you move more toward process efficiency, how do you approach automation within the system?

RR: We want to use automation to alleviate the burden that caregivers are placed under relative to the number of electronic systems they enter, such as EMRs, scheduling and practice management platforms. We want to use new algorithms, technologies and pathways to reduce manual data entry and switching between screens to limit the amount of time that physicians and clinicians spend on the computer. Those tasks take away from the physician/patient experience, and care teams' time is really better spent engaging one-on-one with patients and families.

I see automation as a way to scale the resources and staff that we have so they can be more impactful and increase their reach. We can make clinicians and staff more productive so they can make care more accessible to every patient. That's how we see technologies impacting the care network.

Q: I'm sure there are a lot of companies and ideas that come across your desk. How do you select the ones you partner with?

RR: Our model is unique. We are deeply involved with the operators within our health system as they are ultimately accountable for any new innovation developed. We don't just pick the greatest shiny thing because it gets a lot of attention; we bring in technologies that solve real problems that our operators, clinicians and communities face. We test and scale those solutions and do that alongside the people who are accountable in the healthcare delivery system.

Part of what we evaluate in bringing on a new partner is how that partner will work with our doctors, nurses and staff. We look at how we can all deliver great outcomes and develop a cohesive relationship so we are all on the same team. There is a history in Silicon Valley of organizations thinking they will disrupt medicine without the involvement of clinicians. That’s why we work with partners that value the contributions only our caregivers can bring.

Q: How do you develop a great team and partnerships on the technology side to integrate into the healthcare delivery side?

RR: We are sitting next to some of the greatest data scientists and designers in the world. People who work for those organizations have a great amount of experience, and it's important for us to partner with them. When Apple first launched its Health Records, one of the healthcare organizations to work with them was Dignity Health, which is part of CommonSpirit now.

Those tech organizations have the resources, talent and key attributes like no one else in the world. But they don't have real patients and doctors like we do. They want to partner with us because they need the on-the-ground healthcare expertise we have to develop their products and services. This is critically important as one looks at the potential growth of artificial intelligence and machine learning in care. These algorithms should never be developed in isolation or without a deep understanding of care delivery and the barriers to care that our teams address.

The blending of the medical world and digital community is important and this will continue to be the big trend in our industry. If organized effectively and with effective compliance, innovative partnerships are key to realize our mission to create a new health network that provides the best community, social and medical resources.


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