Banner Health bets on innovation with formation of new initiative

The Banner Innovation Group, or BIG, is a way to bring together the health system’s existing innovation efforts — like its emergency department chatbot — under one umbrella, as well as to expand into new areas.

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Banner Health, a nonprofit system headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona, has launched a new initiative: Banner Innovation Group, or BIG for short.

In a phone interview, Banner chief strategy and growth officer Scott Nordlund, who is leading the effort, explained that BIG was officially unveiled earlier this month. But it’s not the health system’s first time taking a stab at innovation. Banner already had existing innovative efforts in areas like telehealth and through its Imaginariums, which are akin to innovation incubators. BIG is a way to centralize all these pieces under one umbrella, Nordlund said.

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BIG is made up of about 15 staff members who come from various backgrounds. Some are existing Banner employees, while others hail from the worlds of retail, startups, private equity and design agencies. The goal behind having a diverse team is to marry healthcare knowledge and consumer knowledge.

Nordlund added that the group isn’t based in a hospital; instead, team members work at two different offsite locations. The spaces are less corporate and more open concept, which is intended to prompt better brainstorming and collaboration.

Banner Health’s innovation effort will have multiple areas of focus, including funding internal inventors and piloting ideas that its employees and clinicians put forward. It also plans to invest in venture capital funds and join innovation consortiums, the latter of which it has already started to do.

Additionally, BIG will continue to build on the innovation work the Arizona-based system has established.

For instance, one of its existing projects involves helping parents — first-time parents in particular — find their perfect pediatrician through a speed dating-esque format.

Banner also has an artificial intelligence digital triage tool that can help patients figure out whether heading to the emergency department is the best option or if they should go elsewhere like an urgent care clinic.

Another effort centers on a chatbot for the ED aimed at ensuring patients “don’t feel lost and abandoned within the system,” Nordlund said. The goal is to keep patients up-to-date on what’s happening. Through the chatbot, individuals get updates like “You’ll be seen in 10 minutes.” A company called LifeLink is providing the technology to power the bot.

In fact, this work with LifeLink touches on another one of BIG’s goals: launching partnerships with different local and national companies, from large corporations to startups.

“I would really love for Banner to be known as one of the most innovative health systems in the United States,” Nordlund concluded.

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