If something is broken, you fix it. If that something is an imperfect health care system and you are Cambia Grove, you re-define it. Led by Executive Director Maura Little and her staff, the health care innovation hub is celebrating its five-year anniversary with added focus on its programs and partnerships—including ones at the University of Washington and the Foster School’s Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship.
“Now that we have a robust community convened,” said Little, “the next five years is all about building out the 21st century building blocks for a health care innovation landscape.”
For the team at Cambia Grove, it begins with a focus on infrastructure, both physical and technical, around things like interoperability and data. Cambia Grove successfully launched a data fellowship program with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center this last summer to address just that. The other building blocks include incentives and culture. Little says the former, incentives, are particularly of interest right now in terms of innovation, because it’s unclear if the health care sector and system will be operating in a fee-for-service world or a value-based one. The latter, culture, is about “making sure people aren’t creating solutions before defining the problems to solve.”
“Before technology entered the health care system, the focus was solely on how life sciences (drugs, devices, research) entered the health care system including the 10-15 years to market and price for developing these solutions,” said Little. “Now, disruption in health care is coming from life science solutions as well as digital health, health IT and other innovative services. To support the creation and adoption of these new entrants, there are new building blocks that need to be established so the system can effectively embrace innovation.”
Little made it a top priority to create what has become the “5 Points of Health Care™” after being named executive director in October of 2017. The framework boils down all the confusing aspects of the health care system by dividing it up into five different key sectors: payer, provider, purchaser, patient, and policymakers. Cambia Grove even designed an annual conference around it to “highlight the complexities and hurdles for innovators seeking to make changes in the health care system.” The sold out 2020 conference is February 6 and 7.
“Right now, what we see is a system in which there is no pull for innovation,” said Little. “It’s almost as if the innovators are pushing their solutions upon the system. We want to create incentives to pull innovation into the system in order to help individuals and families experience health in a better, more positive, more impactful way.”
Leading a discussion of this magnitude wasn’t always the core priority of Cambia Grove. In 2015, the hub launched to much fanfare, earning the Geekwire Newcomer of the Year Award. “This place was not only cool, it was a much-needed convener. Just like any concept, you test it out,” said Little. “The team at that time did a great job of bringing community players together.”
The early focus was heavily around helping startups get their products into health care organizations to pilot and scale. “What we all realized,” Little said, “is once a lot of health-focused entrepreneurs get to pilot, the scalability isn’t quite there.” Hence, the need for the adoption of “building blocks” and the creation of the 5 Points framework.
That’s not to say entrepreneurship is off the priority list, particularly in terms of Cambia Grove’s partnership with UW. A few months after it launched, the hub signed on as one of the sponsors the Buerk Center’s UW Business Plan Competition (since renamed the Dempsey Startup Competition). That commitment continues today with Cambia Grove sponsoring the Hollomon Health Innovation Challenge (HIC). Little says the HIC “brings the whole community together” and “the things coming out of it are going to change the world.”
“It’s a no-brainer to collaborate. The University of Washington is not just a huge player locally, but nationally in health care innovation,” said Little. “As a graduate (Political Science ’06), and a lifelong resident of the state and King County, I can tell you not a lot of people fully understand the amount of life changing and life saving ideas that come out of UW, especially in health care.”
“The support of critical members in the ecosystem like Cambia Grove is a major difference maker for us at the Buerk Center, and across the University as well,” said Amy Sallin, Center director. “Cambia Grove is a place our student health innovators can engage with and add key experiences to their journey, whether they are currently in school or have recently graduated.”
Cambia Grove doesn’t just support Buerk Center competitions, but also runs one of its own called TRAILS. Winning teams are awarded the rare opportunity to receive direct, targeted, real-world feedback on their project. Two out of the first three competitions, the winners worked with the UW Primary Care Innovation lab to receive comprehensive reports to assist in commercialization process of their solution. Another year, Cambia Grove partnered with three children’s hospitals up and down the West Coast, giving the winner a chance to analyze the day-to-day workflow of doctors and nurses to better understand how their solution can integrate with the existing workflow of those hospitals.
It’s no accident that Cambia Grove can create opportunities like TRAILS and the 5 Points of Health Care Conference freely. Little says it’s by design. The neutral hub is fully funded by Cambia Health Solutions to bring parties— and often competitors– together to “solve common denominator issues.” Breaking down barriers to innovation starts with building the relationships in the community, fostering trust and common ground. With this foundation in place, organizations can candidly discuss the challenges they face when trying to drive health care innovation forward.
“From a competitive standpoint, there is a huge opportunity for Washington state with the wealth of talent in IT, life sciences, health research, and global health,” said Little. “It’s all about making sure people have the tools to put their best thinking in place. The health care system was created by people and it can be fixed by people. It can be done.”
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