The promise of digital health: Key thoughts from Partners HealthCare's Chris Coburn

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Partners HealthCare Chief Innovation Officer Chris Coburn outlines the significance of digital technology in healthcare and why it's important for health systems, especially those with an academic and research mission, to make the right investments in start-ups and innovative technologies for the future.

Question: Where do you see digital technology making the most headway in healthcare?

Chris Coburn: We are in the age of digital healthcare — promises made about digital healthcare capabilities that were first made in the 1960s are becoming a ubiquitous reality. It's difficult to identify an activity, unit or function that is not currently being enhanced or enabled by digital technology. While in some cases it is still nascent, the broad arrival of digital in our environment means that care can be personalized in virtually every element, whether it's for example, giving a precise diagnosis to an individual or providing insights for an entire population. The healthcare delivery model is shifting from single interactions to a continuous exchange of information and insights.

Q: What headwinds are you preparing for in 2020 related to digital health?

CC: Given the significance of the question for our entire system it might be better posed to our CEO Dr. Anne Klibanski or our senior leaders who are focused full-time on our digital components. From my perspective, the issue most relevant for our area is how can we engage the growing number of essential actors, whether users, buyers, regulators, clinicians, big companies, small ones, investors, developers or others, in relationships that can efficiently validate and grow value for the system. We can maintain, or even grow momentum, if we have focused, multidisciplined internal teams and thoughtfully dock with external principals — always with an eye for patient and mutual economic returns.

That is one of the reasons we are so enthusiastic about our new $30 million AI and digital investment fund and its complement our $50 million translational innovation fund. Our well-crafted partnering and investment approach will combat inevitable shifting market dynamics fueled by transformation pressures, an election year and growing concerns about investment models — of course that is all occurring with the backdrop that non-core revenue growth is a high and growing priority throughout the U.S. provider community.

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