The 'goldilocks' strategy: University Hospitals eyes fixes for healthcare's biggest issues

Cleveland-based University Hospitals has launched a $10 million innovation effort to identify, test and scale solutions for some of healthcare's biggest problems, the organization said June 28. 

The Veale Initiative for Health Care Innovation is supported by a $10 million gift from the Veale Foundation. Peter Pronovost, MD, PhD, the system's chief quality and clinical transformation officer, is leading the effort. 

The initiative launched June 26 as a two-year pilot during which University Hospitals will work to identify and address barriers to healthcare delivery that have an immediate economic effect on U.S. hospitals. These efforts will include addressing challenges with nurse labor productivity, healthcare access and chronic disease management, among others. 

"Healthcare does so much good, but it can be so much better. It costs way too much. It harms too often and it learns and improves too slowly," Dr. Pronovost told Becker's. "We think this approach of having a place where the world's biggest health problems collide with the best technologies in an ecosystem of innovation and collaboration [will spur improvements]." 

Through the model, Dr. Pronovost's team will first work to define and prioritize healthcare's key issues by interviewing team members and conducting independent analysis. The team will focus on identifying pain points within healthcare delivery, rather than positions or personnel problems. For example, a pain point is nurses wasting their time documenting in the EHR, while a position is that nurses should not have to document, Dr. Pronovost said.  

After defining and prioritizing healthcare's biggest issues, the next step is what Dr. Pronovost calls "the goldilocks": finding the right degree of specificity to address the problem. 

"Some big problems are so theoretical, they're like boiling the ocean," Dr. Pronovost said. "Others are so small, it's not a meaningful problem that impacts our business. And so we're trying to find those — we kind of think of them as impactful units — that the problem is big enough that it makes a difference in our financial statements." 

From there, Dr. Pronovost's team will conduct innovation due diligence not from a traditional venture perspective, but from the perspective of the health system to understand what problem the solution is trying to solve, what value it will bring to the organization and whether clinicians will actually use it.  

"We will run tests and prototypes to see if we actually can get value," Dr. Pronovost said. "If they work, we will scale across UH and then we will either spin off companies or partner with others to scale more broadly." 

As the health system operates a large ACO with full claims data, UH has fully integrated EHR data and claims for a little more than half of its patients. This information will help the system assess not only clinical effects of a solution, but also factors such as annual cost of care and total drug spending to inform a clear picture of value. 

Dr. Pronovost said he has shared the health system's framework with several venture firms that have already shown a high interest in investing in solutions. 

"They told me, 'If you have a problem that many people in healthcare agree is a problem, and it's big, and you tell me you can solve it, that's a no-brainer for our investment," he said.

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