Transforming Healthcare Through Technology: Why Intermountain's Transformation Lab Wants to Do More Than Innovate


How the Intermountain Transformation Lab is promoting innovation to transform healthcare

The Intermountain Transformation Lab officially opened in August 2013, though it wasn't until this February at the HIMSS Annual Conference and Exhibition in Orlando when it captured the attention of thousands of healthcare leaders by showcasing its Transformation MotorLab, a brightly colored, Intermountain-branded RV with a sampling of the state-of-the-art technology Intermountain currently uses or is helping to develop.

At an event where most exhibitors are health IT vendors, the presence of a health system was unique, but purposeful. To truly transform healthcare toward lower cost, higher quality care — which is the goal of the Lab — numerous groups within healthcare, including providers, vendors and consumer advocates, will need to work together for change.

"It's not an innovation lab; it's a transformation lab," says Fred Holston, executive director of the lab and chief technology officer for Salt Lake City-based Intermountain Healthcare. "Job number one is to change healthcare."

And while the Lab certainly is developing some exciting technologies to change how healthcare is delivered, Mr. Holston knows Intermountain alone isn't going to bring about the nation-wide change the Lab hopes to achieve. Thus, the MotorLab traveled to Orlando, not only to showcase the Lab's achievements thus far but also to bring together new collaborators and partners.

Running on the edge
The Transformation Lab began a few years ago as a side project of Mr. Holston and other members of Intermountain's technology team. As Mr. Holston began to realize the impact some of the side projects could have, he pushed Intermountain leadership to develop a formal group guided by the goal of transforming healthcare through technology. When Intermountain leadership gave the go ahead for the formal launch and dedicated Lab space, leadership agreed to Mr. Holston's request that the group be allowed to "run on the edge" of the formal entity, pursuing interesting projects with the potential for failure.

"What 'fail' means here is successful failures, said Mr. Holston." At some point you realize a project won't succeed, and you may have put time and effort into it, but a successful failure is one you stop early in the process, as soon as you realize it's not possible."

However, Intermountain's leaders made one demand to Mr. Holston, in return for their flexibility: The lab must be fully self-funded. Thus, vendor partners were welcomed into the lab as collaborators with access to the lab's "idea managers" — essentially project managers tasked with turning ideas into products. For a fee, the companies can use the lab, its experts and access potential pilot sites for the products across Intermountain's various clinical sites.

Vendor partners
The lab launched with eight partners, many of whom had informally been working with Mr. Holston and his team previously, asking for advice on how to improve their products for clinical use.

"We get a number of healthcare companies who develop products, but they're not a healthcare entity, so they really need a healthcare ecosystem to make sure the product fits in the last mile," explains Mr. Holston.

The Lab also works with start-ups in the brainstorming of products before development, and it serves as a connector for potential vendor partners. "We are co-working on projects and are facilitating partner a, b and c to work on a single solution," he says.

Founding Lab vendor members include Xi3 Corp., Intel and Cerner. Xi3, the first partner to sign on, a computer manufacturer based in Salt Lake, was formed in 2010 with the goal of creating a smaller, more energy-efficient computer. As part of its partnership with the Lab, Xi3 works with Intermountain on product adjustments and is able to test the computer's use in clinical settings. The small computer — which features an 4-core processor that runs on 45 watts of power — was of particular interest to Intermountain's tech leaders, who recognized the potential need for patient rooms to house their own servers.

"In the patient room of the future, or in the tele-ICU or ER model, we see the need to have a server in the patient's room," said Mr. Holson. "With the Xi3, the little cube provides us that computer power with low electrical consumption, essentially giving us server power in a traditional patient room."

Intermountain Lab has also worked closely with Sotera Wireless, a San Diego-based patient monitoring device maker, to vet its technology, testing both patient and clinician experience. Sotera's technology is currently undergoing clinical trial at Intermountain hospitals, and Intermountain is now an investor in the company.

Clinician-developed technologies for transformation
With its funding in place, the Lab will also serve as a place where the health system can develop and test ideas for products that come from its clinicians.

While Intermountain has long had an Invention Management Office to help guide the development of clinicians' product ideas, "in the current device market venture capitalists are a little less likely to invest money in the idea until they see the product," explains Mr. Holston. The new Transformation Lab provides a place to get an idea past the idea-state and into a working prototype.

So far, the Lab has developed or is in the process of developing five devices originally conceived by Intermountain clinicians. One of the devices is a hand hygiene compliance tool, which clinicians wear on their wrist like a watch, alerting them if they forget to wash their hands as they enter or leave a parent room. The Lab is also exploring devices for suicide prevention within mental health facilities and to prevent injury from falls by children.

While each of these devices is innovative, innovation isn't enough for Mr. Holston. Innovation that doesn't move care toward higher quality and lower costs isn't meaningful innovation. Transformation is the goal, and the reason Mr. Holston and his team developed the lab and work to carry out its mission every day.


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