Carnegie Mellon Teams with Health Insurance Provider to Accelerate Healthcare Innovation

By Griffith, Gerrill | Research-Technology Management, January-February 2014 | Go to article overview

Carnegie Mellon Teams with Health Insurance Provider to Accelerate Healthcare Innovation


Griffith, Gerrill, Research-Technology Management


Health care is fertile ground for disruptive innovation--there are innumerable opportunities to improve delivery and reduce costs through both technical and service innovations. But health insurance providers and other participants in the overall healthcare system have sometimes resisted innovation. A new initiative is partnering one of the nation's top research universities with a national health insurance provider to remove traditional barriers to disruptive innovation in health care.

Carnegie Mellon University's Disruptive Health Technology Institute (DHTI), created in partnership with health insurance provider Highmark, aims to use data mining to spur disruptive innovation for healthcare improvements and cost reductions. With an initial investment of $11 million building on a $2.5 million grant from the Heinz Endowments, the Institute will use Highmark's de-identified aggregated data to target areas where the university's considerable research power and expertise can be applied to increase affordability, simplicity, and accessibility of health care. The aggregated Highmark information--data that researchers can use to track issues across time, organizations, patient populations, or other variables--contains no identifications or personal information about patients. The partnership is giving the insurance company an uncommon seat at the innovation table and researchers unusual access to data that can help steer their innovation work.

DHTI is focusing on seven key areas that correspond to healthcare areas ripe for innovation and Carnegie Mellon's particular areas of expertise. These include six areas related to patient treatment--accessibility of medical diagnostics, behavior change, chronic disease management, endoscopy, diagnostic ultrasound, and infection prevention. The institute will also work to build on the University's expertise in data mining by developing more efficient and effective ways to harvest and analyze data, to improve both research and patient care.

Executive Director Lynn Brusco says the ability to use real and direct input from Highmark's administrators and clinicians allows a new approach to disruptive innovation in health care. "Typically, innovators come to investors with an idea and say, 'This is my idea and I think that it will solve this problem,' and then an investor has to deride whether they want to give the idea backing," she said. "We are coming at solutions differently. We are getting thought leaders together with the right data, sitting down with them discussing real issues and doing horizon mapping to identify where the problems are for healthcare delivery and patients. Researchers are then aligning their work and innovative ideas to provide solutions to these unmet needs."

Brusco said the DHTI approach seeks to replicate the successes attained when the search for safer motor vehicles led to data mining of automobile insurance information. As Brusco describes it, "What is exciting is that we are looking at problems and letting the brightest minds of Carnegie Mellon come up with solutions rather than innovating an idea and then seeing if there is a market for it. We have more than 100 faculty and clinicians doing horizon mapping." The horizon mapping has already resulted in more than 50 specific proposals for targeted innovation, according to Brusco. She declined to specify their nature but said to expect significant announcements about advancing the projects by fall 2013.

Thought leaders in disruptive innovation have long identified the innovator-to-investor step as the first of a set of resistive barriers in health care. …

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