Game-changing advances often stem from unconventional, out-of-the-box approaches. So it’s no wonder that “innovation” was the word on everyone’s lips at Primary Care Pitch Night, the final event in the yearlong InciteHealth program, sponsored by the Harvard Medical School Center for Primary Care. On January 13, 2016, six teams pitched their ideas for transforming primary care to a panel of investors at the Microsoft NERD Center, with a $25,000 prize up for grabs. The event was the culmination of 12 months of brainstorming, boot camps, planning, and collaboration between team members, most of whom had never met each other before participating in InciteHealth. This part-time program supports fellows as they delve into the challenges of primary care and then create pioneering solutions to issues such as patient-doctor communication, management of complex conditions, and healthcare costs.
Such advances are crucial to the future of primary care, said Sachin Jain, MD, chief medical officer of CareMore Health System, in his keynote. “We’ve got real problems in the healthcare space, which can only be solved if we’re willing to talk about them,” he said. “I’m excited about tonight because it brings together the innovative minds of our generation and a traditional institution like Harvard Medical School. We have all the ingredients to take advantage of this moment.”
Although Jain had voiced his worry that “under the smoke of healthcare innovation there is no fire,” his concerns were quickly put to rest by the teams’ presentations. Their pitches—delivered in just seven minutes with three minutes of follow-up questions—shined a light on common primary care challenges and offered unique solutions, often with a personal touch. For example, Lively’s Jacky Kwan, a healthcare actuary, spoke of his wife’s recent cancer scare as the inspiration behind the team’s patient-centric secure messaging portal. Likewise, Daniel Weisberg, MD, of Caravan described an encounter with a patient who lamented that her colon cancer might have been caught sooner had she pursued preventive screenings. “Access to our patient engagement tool and health coach could help prevent screening failures like this,” he explained.
Other teams used humor to drive their point home. Sandeep Palakodeti, MD, and osteopathic medical student Sameer Sood acted out a typical patient-doctor interaction, then detailed how their health analytics tool could help lower healthcare costs associated with type-1 diabetes, which, they joked, “are higher than even the current Powerball jackpot.” And Team Luigi brought their eponymous canine mascot onstage as they pitched their shared decision-making platform. Other innovative solutions included an online marketplace for primary care data and analysis services (PRIMR) and a mobile platform aimed at chronically ill teens (SamePage).
A Transformative Experience
As the pitch panel, composed of local healthcare change-makers, met to select the winner, attendees enjoyed dim sum—and reflected on their experience as “inciters.” “Sameer and I didn’t know each other before we joined Incite,” said Palakodeti. “But we both share the same passion for using technology to improve patient care, and we think we’ve come up with a great approach to that.”
While Luigi the dog dozed nearby, his owner, Stephanie Taylor, MD, tried to put into words the impact the program has had on her. A physician-architect who specializes in the effects of built environments on health, she was feeling a bit overwhelmed with work-related challenges when she discovered InciteHealth. “By the first boot camp, I learned how to think about problems more deeply and to understand that solutions aren’t one size fits all,” she explained. “It’s been nothing short of life-changing for me.” Indeed, Taylor shared a “good luck” text from her son, a medical school student who himself is now interested in applying to InciteHealth.
Luigi’s ears perked up as a cheer erupted through the crowd when the panel’s decision was announced. The winner was Caravan, who plan to use their prize to get a pilot of their digital patient engagement program off the ground later this year. But they—and all of the teams—have already won, said Caravan’s Chethan Bachireddy, MD. “The monetary prize is amazing, but the feedback we’ve received from patients, mentors, and investors is the most valuable part of this experience,” he said. “It’s changed the way we think about primary care and about team building.”
It’s this enthusiasm that InciteHealth’s innovation director Paola Abello, MBA, hopes will remain with the finalists as they pursue their projects and brainstorm new ones. “This may be our Final Pitch Night, but it’s really all about new beginnings,” she said. “I’m looking forward to watching what everyone does next.”
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