How the AMA is helping make sure health tech innovation is physician-led

A recently-launched Physician Innovation Network and a forthcoming Digital Health Implementation Playbook are two new initiatives.
By Jonah Comstock
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Meg Barron, center, speaks on a panel on innovation at Health 2.0's Provider Symposium last week.

The American Medical Association has moved past merely calling out “digital health snake oil.” Over the last few years, the organization has dedicated a lot of resources to fostering positive digital health innovation — and making sure that innovation is physician-led whenever possible.

“If there’s over 300,000 [digital health] apps and solutions, and over 40,000 that are directly patient-facing, how many of those — and I would say not as many as there should be — really have as much physician input and provider input on the front end as possible?” Meg Barron, director of digital health strategy at AMA, asked MobiHealthNews in a sit-down interview on the sidelines of Health 2.0 last week. “So taking electronic health records as something we don’t want to repeat history on, and the lack of physician involvement for that, we want to help to right the ship, or sort of set the ship in the right direction, as much as possible.”

Two years ago, AMA conducted a survey of 1,300 physicians about their digital health usage, enthusiasm, and barriers to adoption. They also convened a summit earlier this year to learn what would help physicians to take ownership over development and deployment of digital tools. Out of these explorations have come two major initiatives: the Physician Innovation Network, a social network-like matchmaking tool that launched at last year’s Connected Health Conference, and the Digital Health Implementation Playbook, which the association is gearing up to launch soon.

Of course, these two are only part of the picture for AMA, which Barron says is now thinking about technology in all aspects of its operations.

“I think it’s weaved into almost everything we’re doing,” she said, adding that technology is shaping all three of the associations strategic arcs: reimagining medical education; addressing chronic disease management; and attacking system disfunction and administrative burdens.
 

The Physician Innovation Network

More than 2,600 physicians and more than 1,300 entrepreneurs currently make up the 4,000 users of the AMA Physician Innovation Network platform, which is designed to help entrepreneurs and physicians connect in myriad ways.

“We have relationships with most accelerators and innovation hubs across the country,” Barron explained. “…As part of this we were getting a ton of companies reaching out to us saying ‘So great that you guys are a partner, but now do you have three urologists that can give me feedback on this project?’ or ‘I’m looking for a physician advisor or board member to get involved’ or ‘I’m looking for a pilot site.’”

“…We were doing our best playing matchmaker as much as possible, but we realized that wasn’t sustainable to get this to the level we need to with this many apps and devices in the market, so as a result we built out kind of a beta platform a little more than a year ago, and then launched the current version at Connected Health last year in October. So we like to think of it as really a Match.com meets LinkedIn to connect physicians and health tech companies.”

Entrepreneurs often have specific needs when it comes to a physician advisor or cofounder, or a pilot site. They might be looking for a doctor in a relatively small specialty or at a particular kind of hospital. And, for their part, Barron said, many doctors are eager to get involved in tech innovation but don’t have an opportunity in front of them.

“Physicians at their core are problem-solvers and innovators and they are really interested in this space. And you’re also seeing this rise of ‘doctrepreneurs’ and we have a number of different collaborators we work with like ‘Society of physician entrepreneurs’ and other groups. That they want to feel further plugged into this, or they have a passion for problem solving. And at their core I think wanting to find better solutions and recognize we could be doing better,” she said. “I think historically this industry might have seemed a little bit unapproachable, and this provides a really easy way for them to get their feet wet.”

The platform is multifaceted, letting users on both sides search for one another, but also creating shared community spaces, similar to a Facebook feed, where users can discuss larger topics in health innovation. AMA has begun offering virtual panels on the platform where users can pose questions to experts, and has added a blog portal for longer-form user-generated content, as well as an events calendar.

The AMA plans to continue adding more features. One that Barron is excited about would solve the problem of keeping track of the many companies that often find themselves attacking the same problem.

“Something we’re planning to roll out is something called a Clinical Problem Database through Physician Innovation Network,” she said. “With the goal being, if we want to really source what are the core problems we want to solve, this is almost an evergreen crowdsourcing platform to be able to do that so that physicians feel like they’re having a voice. Then two, entrepreneurs can see problems that they are attempting to solve around already, and if they’re not, that could be a gold mine that they could attempt to ideate around.”
 

The Digital Health Implementation Playbook

While the Physician Innovation Network helps physicians to get involved in early stage innovation, the AMA is also interested in helping hospitals to tackle deployment problems later in the sales cycle.

“In January of this year we brought together about 20 external collaborators — health leaders, entrepreneurs, and physicians — to give us a gut check,” Barron said at a panel at the conference. “Is this what you’re seeing, and if so what could help to address that? And when we workshopped that, the top idea that came out was ‘Wouldn’t it be great if you guys could help to convene stakeholders all across the country to get a sense for what’s working and what’s not working in terms of adoptions. What are best practices? So we don’t have to live through the same failures that others have worked through.”

While the group isn’t ready to talk too much about the playbook, it’s planning to announce more next month.

“Think of this as a sherpa that’s looking to aggregate best practices into one guide,” Barron said during the panel. “This will live both in something that can be downloaded as a pdf, but also be part of an interactive website that we’re looking for physicians and entrepreneurs to be able to leverage as a better guide to success. The initial use case we’re focused on is remote monitoring. And, back to our organizational goals, we’re focused on blood pressure. But there’s quite a few upfront general considerations that this could apply to.”

Focus on Innovation

In September, we take a deep dive into the cutting-edge development and disruption of healthcare innovation.