OSF HealthCare innovation CMO sees C-suite, innovation team relationship as integral to growth

Despite being a midsize health system, OSF HealthCare pumps a lot of time, effort and investment into innovation and technology. Its chief medical officer for innovation and digital health, John Vozenilek, MD, discussed with Becker's how the system approaches innovation. 

Dr. Vozenilek joined the call from Miami, far flung from Peoria, Illinois, where OSF HealthCare is based. The emergency medicine physician by training told Becker's that he was in Miami researching the potential for blockchain to be used in healthcare, especially regarding patient data privacy and security. 

"It would not seem that a Catholic healthcare system in the middle of central Illinois would actually have a play in this idea of blockchain," he said. "But we have a very significant interest in data privacy, data security and agency in data." 

Dr. Vozenilek said there's potential for blockchain to help patients reclaim ownership of their data and, perhaps, be rewarded for its use. 

"Now I don't mean that patients are going to receive cryptocurrency," he said. "But I do think that patients will benefit by our sharing, and I do think there are imaginative ways that patients can receive rewards for the sharing of personal health data." 

For a midsize health system employing 2,400 providers, OSF HealthCare has a large innovation arm. It has established a "hospital-at-home" program, invested in health tech researchers and created a best-practices app for nurses. Partnerships have been instrumental in its successes, Dr. Vozenilek said. 

"We identified a number of external partners and we learned and grew, starting primarily with some external partners and through external innovation," he said. "But at the same time, we began to build our internal innovation platform. We did this by partnering with academic institutions and with other business partners to develop new ideas, ones that we could achieve through internal investment."

Among these internal investments is their discovery labs. 

"Our discovery labs are focus areas for creating new business intelligence and creating new businesses through internal innovation," he said. "So we partner with academics and others, and we show them our needs and healthcare areas and those particular focuses, and we invite them into these laboratories to co-create." 

OSF currently has seven discovery labs, each focusing on a different challenge; a blockchain lab will bring the total labs to eight. While the labs are in-house investments, they can be funded through seed grants from their Jump Applied Research for Community Health through Engineering and Simulation endowment, or ARCHES, which has already funded $4 million worth of seed projects, or through OSF community health advocacy programs. They have also previously received funding from external agencies, such as HHS. 

"So in the traditional model, innovation comes out of the operating unit as a cost ... you have to invest in research and development," Dr. Vozenilek said. "We've had tremendous philanthropic support for innovation in this Catholic healthcare organization, and it's really allowed us the flexibility to take risks that we would not have otherwise taken."

To Mr. Vozenilek, part of the reason for the success of the system's innovation is due to the close relationship between the innovation team and the C-suite.

"The key leadership of our organization ... give us the initiative and the room to grow the innovation program," he said "I think without that direct connection at the C-Suite, innovation would be much slower, and we'd really be working within the constraints of operating units."

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