Hennepin Medical joins TreeHouse Health accelerator in Minneapolis

Hennepin County Medical Center and TreeHouse Health are teaming up to spur innovation in and around the Twin Cities, becoming the latest hospital-incubator collaboration that hopes to bring ideas straight to market and reduce healthcare costs. The regional health system’s Center for Healthcare Innovation will establish a full-time presence at TreeHouse Health’s space in downtown […]

Hennepin County Medical Center and TreeHouse Health are teaming up to spur innovation in and around the Twin Cities, becoming the latest hospital-incubator collaboration that hopes to bring ideas straight to market and reduce healthcare costs.

The regional health system’s Center for Healthcare Innovation will establish a full-time presence at TreeHouse Health’s space in downtown Minneapolis for at least the next three years, officials said.

For the hospital, the partnerships extends already existing efforts to drive down the cost of care by supporting the wealth of entrepreneurial talent in the region outside of a traditional setting, Hennepin County Medical Center CEO Jon Pryor said.

“Our main focus has been looking at innovation to change care delivery, and we wanted an environment of people to get away from the day-to-day grind of the hospital.” he said, adding that being removed from the hospital allows for a “somewhat isolated place to stimulate ideas.”

“The goal of our Center for Healthcare Innovation at Hennepin is to basically improve the care delivery for patients and develop trans-formative approaches.”

Numerous hospitals across the U.S. have similarly partnered with digital health accelerators or started their own, among them Blue Print Health and New York Presbyterian, Cambia Health in Seattle and Texas Medical Center, to name a few.

TreeHouse Health, a small but growing accelerator headed by health insurance veteran John Blank, currently has seven portfolio companies in a 13,000 square-foot space near downtown.

Founded in 2013, TreeHouse Health is seeking other “anchor tenant” relationships with organizations in the payer, device, and consumer-oriented sectors of healthcare.

By joining with a major county hospital, TreeHouse companies will gain invaluable access and understanding to the industry they’re hoping to target, which could in turn lead to a quick pathway to commercialization, according to Blank.

“…These companies must understand the needs of their customers. As a major healthcare delivery system, (Hennipen) adds tremendous value to our early-stage companies,” he said in an announcement At the same time, (Hennipen’s) participation in TreeHouse Health, as part of its own innovation strategy, will help support internal innovation efforts and guide the selection of portfolio companies in which TreeHouse Health invests.”

Pryor likewise said the health system is a good fit for an incubator – it’s large enough to hold sway in the industry but not so large that it’s overly bureaucratic.

“We’re about an $850 million system,” he said. “We’re the right size. It’s a big system but not so big that we can’t move nimbly.”

Pryor also detailed the sort of challenges he hopes the collaboration can help address. It obviously included the use of technology, but equally – if perhaps not more – important, are innovative ways to address the delivery of care. To that end, rethinking the role of registered nurses, licensed vocational nurses, nurse practitioners and physician assistants is as relevant as the glitzy gadgets and buzzwords like big data.

And with big data, it’s certainly promising, Pryor said, but the attention needs to focus on the smaller hospitals and not simply healthcare giants like Kaiser Permanente or the Mayo Clinic. Those big systems, he said, do an excellent job, but the level of infrastructure they have compared to safety-net and public hospitals needs to be addressed.

“If you’re going to give people data, you need to make it actionable,” he said, “so you’re not overwhelming them with data. Make the data relevant.”

Still another is working on payment models for telemedicine, which his moving far too slowly, he said. That’s why it makes sense to partner with the accelerator.

“We’re going to be in an environment where we can react to what they’re working on and we’ll help them, and that in turn will help us,” Pryor said. “It needs a lot of transforming.”