Innovation platforms to be instrumental in hospital growth, Partners HealthCare's Chris Coburn explains

As the chief innovation officer of Boston-based Partners HealthCare System, Chris Coburn leads a team of more than 125 people who are tasked with the worldwide commercial application of the discoveries of Partners' 74,000 employees.

Mr. Coburn and his team's business development responsibilities include investing, company creation, international consulting, innovation management, industry collaborations and licensing.

An experienced leader, Mr. Coburn helped Cleveland Clinic spin off 57 companies and raise more than $700 million in equity financing.

Below, Mr. Coburn details how the innovation will expand in healthcare as well as what he is doing to promote innovation at Partners.

Question: As chief innovation officer, what has been your proudest moment or accomplishment? 

Chris Coburn: At Partners, I am proud of our continued clinical and research excellence while across the system we are enhancing value in all aspects of care delivery. We are in a period of significant systemic change. An interesting and important part of this is that innovation and discovery, while always a national priority, now is emerging as a central organizational function to drive healthcare transformation. In institutions around the US, at the board and executive level, there is a strong and expressed commitment that effective innovation and application are key to meeting the transformation challenge. 

When it comes to one specific thing, it was a source of honor and pride when my direct boss Anne Klibanski, MD, became CEO earlier this year. Dr. Klibanski recruited me to Partners in her prior role as chief academic officer. In her short time as Partners' CEO, she has already implemented some long-aspired changes which will have profound benefits for our entire system. It's wonderful to see a clinician come out of the research and innovation segment of Partners tapped to lead the entire system during such a critically important period. 

Q: How do you promote innovation on your team and within your health system? 

CC: It's important for people to know that innovation is a process. From our standpoint at Partners, confirming the strategic priorities and related system design is so important. As innovation leaders, you must understand the context you sit in while being very clear-eyed about the organizational dynamics. Innovation is not one breakthrough. Rather innovation is an expression of the organization's priorities and capabilities and realized through the creative actions of our gifted employees — hundreds of our Harvard faculty and administrative leaders. The job of our team is to help enable and then commercially act on this expression. 

Q: Looking five to 10 years ahead, where do you see your role as chief innovation officer heading? How will changes in healthcare affect your role? 

CC: We just released a benchmarking report that we collaborated with Fitzroy Health on that shows that throughout the industry, hospitals and health systems have the desire to drive more revenue through their innovation related functions. In the coming years, they will increasingly look for greater outcomes, further organizational change and ever increased revenue. The innovation platforms at hospitals and health systems will become more significant and be a systematic source of not just incremental growth but game changing ideas — highly calibrated and prioritized for top leadership and boards to make an investment decision to support (or not).

Q: What is an example of an innovation that has been successfully implemented? Several years ago, our population health team developed novel care paths to improve care and reduce cost in this critical set of patients. At the same time, Health Catalyst provided a lot of value through their initial collaboration with us as an electronic data warehouse vendor and partner. When additional software development resources were needed, the HC collaboration was broadened to jointly develop the tools with our PHM team. HC brought the Partners PHM innovations to market to assist providers nationally. When Health Catalyst went public last month, to great enthusiasm, our relationship was one of their signature accomplishments.  

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