There are many reasons why vendor executives might consider a move to the provider side; for Joel Vengco, who worked with product development at GE Healthcare IT, it was an opportunity to truly innovate. And sure enough, two years accepting the CIO role at Baytate Health, Vengco founded TechSpring, which provides “a platform for innovators to test out solutions” in a real-life environment. In this interview, Vengco talks about his goals with TechSpring and how it has helped shape the organization’s strategic direction, the work his team is doing to drive value-based care, and the goal of moving to an integrated platform. He also discusses the CIO’s role in managing expectations, why analytics is “the next big boom,” and the biggest challenge for today’s leaders.
- 4 main pillars of TechSpring
- Eye on predictive and prescriptive analytics
- Providing “high-touch mobility through digital platforms”
- Not just an incubator, but a “connection to the organism”
- Innovator-funded model
- Working with Cerner, Imprivata & Medecision
- “The ability to transform is crucial to survive.”
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It adds value because it’s an open collaboration with a health system that looks a lot like many of their customers. So rather than creating a product to isolation, they’re able to really put it in vivo into a live organism like Baystate Health. That’s a very important part of the product lifecycle.
There was a profound change that had occurred when Healthcare Reform was deployed across the country, and that profound change is forcing all of us to practice differently. And so in order for us to survive in this new era, we really have to leverage innovation and transformation of the way that we do business.
We as CIOs could absolutely get bogged down with the first level, which is to run and hopefully grow the organization, but oftentimes, we focus so much on the blocking and tackling that we end up losing the ability to transform.
There are so many vendors, so many startups trying to help solve our problems; the least we could do is partner with them and collaborate with them to see if we can push their and our agenda forward so that we can really impact healthcare.
Gamble: So at any given time, there could be a couple different innovations being put to the test.
Vengco: Absolutely. We focus on four main pillars in TechSpring right now. At the moment, we were actually actively working on all four of them, and those include what we call the next generation health information systems. Not so much the EHR but things that goes into population health, such as mobile apps for providers. We’re actually working on one right now that sits on top of our central EHR. It provides a mobile solutions for our docs that require a more efficient and more speedy workflow, like urgent care for example, or even our ambulatory docs who need to have a very quick workflow. Many of them will want to get on to more of a mobile device platform; this is an innovation that sits on top of Cerner and uses FHIR and other APIs that are provided, and hopefully gets them a better workflow. That’s one area.
Another area we’ve touched on already is analytics. We’ve got a number of irons in the fire for developing predictive and prescriptive analytics for our health system. It utilizes, obviously, the data that’s in our EHR, but we’re also looking at use of data from our Health Information Exchange and also exogenous data, that being things like market data — perhaps data that’s in your grocery store, or other types of external healthcare data or external demographic data of patients to try to really get a holistic picture of that patient and predict more specifically what might happen as an outcome or behavior change.
We’re also focused on mobility and mobile apps for patients. Patient engagement is a big part of our focus in TechSpring, with things like telehealth and mobile apps for care management — other ways to provide them with high-touch through mobility through the digital platforms that they may have at home. Home monitoring is another example of that.
The fourth area is more of we call medical devices and things like FitBit and wearables that we might provide to folks to monitor and track them. Within that pillar is also what we generally call is therapeutics but we’re not getting into pharmaceutical sort of engagements right now. We have had some discussions with folks, but our focus mainly right now are those four areas. But we certainly aren’t closed to connecting with pharmaceuticals for more appropriate and useful innovations in the future.
Gamble: Right. And you work with both startup companies as well as more established companies? What has that experience been like?
Vengco: We absolutely do both. Like I said earlier, though, we qualify it as late-stage startups. Because we actually haven’t created a fund yet for TechSpring, so we don’t have right now the capability to fund early-stage startups. We do have a couple of early-stage startups who have come in and have funding from angel investors or they had a first round already. But typically we’ll engage with those that have the ability to pay for a project manager and to pay for services provided by TechSpring, because these projects aren’t without effort and aren’t without the need for resources. So there needs to be some level of expense by the innovators, because you have to pay for a project manager, for example, and you have to pay for equipment. So there are capital and operational expenses that are required as a member of TechSpring, but it’s really at cost, if you will. It’s not like TechSpring is for profit. The focus of TechSpring is to absolutely help incubate and accelerate solutions that are being created by these innovators, but our expectation is that the innovators themselves will provide that funding.
Later stage startups have come thru TechSpring and also vendors like Cerner, Dell, Medecision, IBM, and Imprivata, just to name a handful. They’re obviously more established vendors who have lots of presence across the healthcare industry, and they provide operational support in dollars to their TechSpring projects so that they can see that work through. And for them it adds value because it’s an open collaboration with a health system that looks a lot like many of their customers. So rather than creating a product to isolation, they’re able to really put it in vivo into a live organism like Baystate Health. That’s a very important part of the product lifecycle and product development lifecycle.
Gamble: Okay. So as far as how you weave that into your strategy as CIO, you’ve touched on that a little bit already, but I would think it definitely has advantages in having vendors come to you guys and get a first look at something that could be a good solution.
Vengco: Yeah, certainly part of it is being able to, as a CIO and health system, sort of vet out all of the solutions that you think would work to solve your problems before purchasing it. That’s certainly not the core reason that TechSpring exists. Really the reason why TechSpring exists is because number one, we know that in today’s healthcare environment, we have to focus on doing things differently. There was a profound change that had occurred when Healthcare Reform was deployed across the country, and that profound change is forcing all of us to practice differently. And so in order for us to survive in this new era, we really have to leverage innovation and transformation of the way that we do business.
As a result of that, our strategic objectives as a health system—and other health systems I’m sure have the same process — has been created to try to focus on what our mission and our new vision may be. And that’s really what holds up the deliverables of TechSpring. That’s what we use as guiding principles to select projects that we think are going to be useful for Baystate, but hopefully, also useful for the rest of the country, who is trying to figure out how to survive in this new era. So TechSpring exists for that reason.
As a CIO, I focus on really three areas of function. We have to focus on running our IT organization and running a lot of the infrastructure at the health system. We have to focus on helping the health system grow so it’s continuing to expand, and figure out how does it grow its revenue, how does it grow its population that it manages, how does it grow its membership, etc. But in all that, we also have to figure out how to continue to transform and innovate. And so we as CIOs could absolutely get bogged down with the first level, which is to run and hopefully, at some level, grow the organization, but oftentimes, we focus so much on the blocking and tackling that we end up losing the ability to transform. And that’s really crucial to survive in today’s environment, without a doubt.
Gamble: Yeah, absolutely. And TechSpring has been around for about two years?
Vengco: That’s right. It was established in November of 2014, and I’ve been so pleased with its continued progress and continued growth in the way that I think it’s impacting not just Baystate, but also our region and our state. We have some great partners who are sponsors but also we’re starting to see a lot of great partnerships across the state, and we’ve had conversations even beyond the state to see how we can help with others who are looking at creating an innovation environment at their health system. So we’re excited. I’m excited about its progress and looking forward to really impacting healthcare over the next several years with the work that’s going to be delivered out of TechSpring.
Gamble: It’s really interesting concept. So you’ve been at the organization for four years?
Vengco: Yeah, it’s a little over four years now. I joined back in June of 2012.
Gamble: Did you know going in that you wanted to be a part of something like TechSpring or did the idea come after you had already started with Baystate?
Vengco: It was actually during my interview process that I actually realized this would be an amazing environment to test new solutions that are going to be coming down the pike, particularly with population health. That’s something obviously we’re really focused on as a healthcare industry, and analytics as well.
Having just come from GE — that’s actually were I was when I was interviewing for Baystate Health — I was really focused on product development and product management. One of my biggest challenges was often not having an environment that infused reality into my products. You can create a very good product or have a great idea, but you don’t really know that it works until somebody buys it and installs it. So TechSpring really came out of that as well. There are so many vendors, so many startups trying to help solve our problems; the least we could do is partner with them and collaborate with them to see if we can push their and our agenda forward so that we can really impact healthcare.
Gamble: Given the way you speak about TechSpring, it’s not surprising that you did come from that side, because you seem to have a different perspective on collaborating with vendors that hopefully will start to pick up more steam in the industry.
Vengco: Think that’s really the point of it — to have this collaboration; having vendors and startups and Baystate Health experts collide and come up with problems that they want to solve in a shared manner. Not only does it expand the relationship with your vendors — or really, as we call them, your partners — but it allows both parties to get through the many solutions that may be out there that just create noise and really focus on those problems that really need to be solved immediately.
It’s a really neat model in many ways because it brings together not just this idea of an incubator or an accelerator, but it creates this connection to the organism so that it’s not an experiment only or it’s not just a mentor program for startups. It really puts together these environments that create a sort of an amazing marriage of R&D and true productive use. So that’s what I think is really unique about TechSpring — that it is all of those things together, and hopefully accelerates the productive use of a solution as an innovation so that it can be in the environment more quickly.
Gamble: Right. Okay, that covers what I wanted to talk about. It’s been really interesting hearing about everything you’re doing with TechSpring, as well as Baystate. So thank you so much for your time, I really appreciate it.
Vengco: It’s my pleasure. Thanks, Kate.
Gamble: Thank you so much, Joel.