The HIT Parade

The Cleveland Clinic recently published an annual Top 10 list of what their leadership believes to be the most significant advances in medicine in each of the last five years.  In 2007-2008 all of the items on the top 10 lists were either medical devices, clinical diagnostics,pharmaceutical or biotech products.  These sectors were basically the Beatles of medicine, while healthcare information technology was more like the indie group Florence + the Machine:  intriguing, but not likely to be called out on the Billboard Top 10 (or make Cleveland’s own Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) in the immediate future.

Interestingly, healthcare information technology (HIT) applications began to sneak their way onto the Cleveland Clinic Top 10 list over the last two years.  In 2009-2010 HIT barely made it, coming in at number 10 in both years.  In contrast to all previous years, however, there it was.  HIT had made it to the list representing 10% of what one of the nation’s most prestigious medical institutions calls the most significant up-and-coming technologies that can have the biggest impact on health care.  In 2011 HIT was number 6 with a bullet, moving HIT well up the Top 10 list.

I think it is fair to say that most people in the know about the healthcare field agree that the strategic application of HIT is essential to moving the quality, efficiency and efficacy of our healthcare system forward.  However, it is particularly gratifying to see an organization such as the Cleveland Clinic broadening their view of what constitutes the most profound developments in our healthcare system.

Here are the HIT ideas selected by the Cleveland Clinic in the last 3 years:

  • 2011 #6: Telehealth Monitoring for Individuals with Heart Failure/Implanted Wireless Cardiac Device for Monitoring Heart Failure: Various sophisticated methods of assessing heart failure control are now in use or in final testing phases, including an implantable, miniature, permanent monitor with communication technologies that measures and transmits daily pulmonary artery pressure levels, a key indicator of heart health.  In addition, a variety of sophisticated at-home telehealth monitoring devices are being used at home by patients with heart failure to check and transmit real-time body weight, heart rate, and blood pressure results to a secure database for doctors to review with a smartphone or computer.
  • 2010 #10 Whole Slide Imaging for Management of Digital Data in Pathology:  A new technology that converts glass slides into digital slides with excellent image quality that can be viewed, managed, stored, streamed over the internet, and analyzed on a computer, transforming it into a virtual microscope.
  • 2009 #10 Private Sector National Health Information Exchange: A comprehensive system of electronic health records that link consumers, general practitioners, specialists, hospitals, pharmacies, nursing homes, and insurance companies is in the process of being established.

You can see the entire Top 10 lists for each of the years 2009-2011 by clicking on the links of the respective years above.

Given the increased focus by policy-makers, health plans, and even provider groups on how to integrate HIT into their organizations, compounded by the billions of dollars in ARRA stimulus dollars advancing adoption, it will be interesting to see whether HIT begins to represent a greater percentage of the Top 10 list going forward.  There are numerous areas that haven’t yet cracked the list where HIT can make a profound difference in the healthcare field.  New acts that could potentially make the Top 10 include products that reduce hospital-based medical errors, systems that improve clinical decision-making at the point of care and technologies to fundamentally enhance patient engagement in their own care, among others.

Can HIT dominate the Cleveland Clinic’s Top 10 chart like Katie Perry in summertime or will it continue to be a one-hit wonder each year?  If my own anecdotal experiences are any indicator, I am betting on some greater airplay for HIT over the next 5-10 years.

Over the last 12 months I have been contacted by at least 5-6 separate venture funds that traditionally have avoided HIT and put all their chips down on the biotech and medical device sectors.   Each of them is now seeking relationships in and knowledge about the HIT field and has stated their intention to expand their investment focus into this growing area.  While I won’t call out any of them by name, I bet a few might surprise those who pay attention to these kinds of things.

Venture capital is often a leading indicator of what will make an appearance on the radars of key opinion leaders in the medical field down the line, as clinicians and healthcare management executives sit at the end of the pipeline receiving the fruits of venture-backed endeavors.  If the entry to the venture capital funnel starts to fill with a greater number of HIT innovations, I am guessing that there is a good chance they will play a larger role in the medical industry’s equivalent of the Billboard Charts over the next few years: a whole new HIT parade for our times.

Lisa Suennen is a managing member of Psilos Group, co-headquartered in the Bay Area and New York City, The firm has funded and developed more than 38 innovative companies, including ActiveHealth, AngioScore, Click4Care, Definity Health, ExtendHealth and OmniGuide. Lisa regularly posts on her blog, Venture Valkyrie.

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