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Jump-starting population health management

Ken Terry | Aug. 22, 2016
Aurora Health Care, a healthcare system with 15 hospitals and over 150 clinics, has just entered the second phase of an effort to use startup software developers to create the applications it needs for population health management.

That’s a fair criticism of the available apps, especially those created by analytics vendors, says Kuhnen, who has held technical leadership positions at a number of companies involved in healthcare IT. “That said, there are also a number of very innovative, forward-thinking population health vendors out there,” he argues.

While Aurora is looking for a broad range of applications, including both consumer- and provider-focused systems, Simons cites mobile health apps and wearable sensors as areas of particular interest. Despite the innovation contest’s mention of solutions that can use data and analytics to develop personalized care plans, he says a big data approach won’t be required. While big data has a place in analytics, he notes, much of population health management boils down to patient engagement and care management.

Aurora didn’t invest in Startup Health because it expected to make money off of the investment, Simons says. The organization’s main goals, he explains, are to help patients live healthier lives and to help Aurora plan for the future — including its financial future. Referring to the healthcare industry’s shift to value-based reimbursement, he says, “How we get paid and everything else in the future is changing, and that’s going to require different methodologies and different care delivery models.”

Kuhnen says that Aurora’s decision to take a financial stake in the accelerator doesn’t seem to follow the usual pattern of an investor providing funding for a startup in hopes of one day taking it public and making a big profit. Aurora apparently regards its Startup Health deal as a way to get custom-built applications, he says.

This “build” approach is unlikely to be more cost effective than its “buy” alternative, he adds. Even a large organization like Aurora can’t develop applications from scratch and maintain them more cheaply than an established software vendor could, he says. Moreover, because Aurora is in the healthcare industry, it could face unforeseen costs and challenges related to compliance with regulations, such as the government’s requirement that electronic health records systems must be certified.

Simons, however, says that Aurora wasn’t motivated by a desire to obtain custom-built applications. “That’s not how we’re going at it,” he says. “We’re going at it from the viewpoint of what’s going to serve our community and serve our patients.”

The Aurora CIO says he isn’t concerned about the additional cost and complexity of integrating the new population health management apps with the organization’s existing systems. Regarding the cost, he says, “I think it’s worth whatever investment we need to make in our infrastructure to do this,” he says. And as for the potential integration challenge, he says, “It doesn’t worry me how these apps come together. Some could be running on software-as-a-service [SaaS] platforms, and some could be working within our integrated systems.”


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