Utah health system deepens partnership with accelerator Healthbox

By Jonah Comstock
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When Intermountain Healthcare, a large Utah-based hospital system, invested in digital health accelerator Healthbox last April, they announced that Intermountain would be one of the first testbeds for a Healthbox "foundry" program. Now more details have emerged about Healthbox and Intermountain's three-part collaboration.

One part is fairly standard: Intermountain will serve as a partner for a new Healthbox location in Utah, which launched in August. In addition, though, Healthbox will help Intermountain establish an in-house incubator program for Intermountain employees called the Intermountain Foundry. Finally, the health system is working with Healthbox to create a fund to invest in startups that come out of its Foundry program.

"It’s based on a lot of the feedback we’ve gotten from clinicians and others, talking to internal physicians who've had ideas and they’re not sure where to go, they kind of scramble around the organization to sort of get the support they need to help their ideas grow," George Hamilton, vice president of business development at Intermountain told MobiHealthNews. "We thought, why should that be the case? If an idea is meant to transform healthcare, that’s what Intermountain is all about, why shouldn’t we develop a structure to support that, to make it as easy as possible? It’s hard enough just to create a new product or a new device or a new piece of software. It’s challenging enough to try and go outside and develop it and get funding, but if we streamline that and provide not just the business support but all the ties to the clinical side where they can get clinical evaluations, you end up with better products you can get into the market faster." 

There will be a few differences between entrepreneurs going through the Healthbox Utah pipeline and those going through the Intermountain Foundry, even though both will experience similar Healthbox curricula and resources. One is that only Intermountain employees (and initially only physicians) will be eligible to participate in the Foundry. The other is that the regular Healthbox will likely serve companies that are a little further along.

"This Foundry model is great because it may catch ideas earlier on," Hamilton said. "That’s the nuance between the Foundry and Healthbox’s external programs is the Foundry ideas are probably in a little bit of an earlier stage. [Healthbox companies] are really businesses. The Foundry are more concepts. You could envision a path where something from the Foundry could reach a point where its next natural point of development would be to apply for Healthbox and that certainly could happen."

Hamilton said that companies from either accelerator will have opportunities to pilot technology in one of Intermountain's 22 hospitals. The hospital system has pretty good innovation cred: it has piloted Sotera Wireless's ViSi Mobile system, a smartphone-based lab test for stress, and a speech-enabled physician order entry app.

"If there’s an idea out there that looks like it could be beneficial to our patients and transform healthcare, whether it comes form within or without, we want to do what we can to give it exposure and try it out," he said.

A new class will roll through the Foundry about every six months, Hamilton said, concluding with a "Shark Tank"-like demo session where potential funders from inside and outside Intermountain will evaluate the concepts. According to Hamilton, the initial class includes a wearable device that uses algorithms to predict the patients' likelihood of developing certain conditions and allows doctors to triage accordingly. Another product involves a novel approach to treating arrhythmias with heart stimulation.

"Each point in the way, the team from Healthbox are the ones moving the ball down the court," Hamilton said. "They’re providing expertise, insight and management support. It would take us years to develop the kind of expertise we’d need to run the Foundry on our own. So having a turnkey solution has been amazing."