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Why LifeBridge Health and CareFirst are collaborating on startup engagement

The organizations are teaming up for the June 5 Payvider Innovation Summit featuring a discussion between biotech leaders and a $50,000 pitch competition for six digital health startups. Here's why it's a sign of innovation to come.

CareFirst headquarters at Canton Crossing. (Public domain photo by Baltimore Heritage)
A June 5 summit will be an outward sign of innovation efforts happening inside two leading healthcare organizations in the Baltimore area.

LifeBridge Health and CareFirst Blue Cross Blue Shield are teaming for the first time on the morning event, called the Payvider Innovation Summit, to be held at CareFirst’s headquarters in Canton Crossing. It’ll feature speakers including former U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra and Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa, as well as a panel discussion featuring biotech leaders and industry experts and a $50,000 pitch competition for six digital health startups.

The name of the event represents the collaboration between a provider of care at hospitals and medical institutions in LifeBridge Health, and a health insurer in CareFirst, which is the largest in the Mid-Atlantic region.

To LifeBridge Health Executive Director of Innovation Pothik Chatterjee, the collaboration that began in the fall of 2018 is an opportunity for “two major players in the healthcare industry to come together and do something great for their own organizations and patients, as well as the community.”

The two have a mutual interest in exploring new technology and approaches within the healthcare system — and that includes engaging with the startup community by bringing digital health entrepreneurs onstage to pitch in the finals of the innovation challenge.

Chatterjee has experience organizing a similar event while working at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. But he said this event stands out by giving the companies a chance to get in front of leaders of both a payer and provider.

The event brings together two sides of the healthcare continuum: payer and provider.

“It’s the first time that I’m seeing an innovation challenge that brings together both sides,” he said.

It’s also convenes teams at the respective organizations working on innovation every day.

At LifeBridge Health, a 16-member team makes up the innovation and research department, which is involved in deploying digital solutions that focus on how patients access and experience the services provided, said Caroline Robinson, senior manager of strategy and operations.

That includes pilots with startups, as well as serving as co-developers of health IT solutions. The hospital’s leaders look at solutions from the perspective of, “what is the user experiencing?” Robinson said, so areas of focus include patient engagement and user experience, as well as care management. The organization has worked with several startups and tech companies previously and is interested in expanding its own pipeline.

Another area of focus for the team is on translational research associated with clinical trials for new treatments and medical devices, and population health.

When it comes to entrepreneurship, North Baltimore’s Sinai Hospital Bioincubator, which is operated by LifeBridge, is designed for life sciences and biotech companies. Along with providing access to wet lab space that’s at a premium in the area, it brings the early-stage companies right beside the clinic within the walls of the hospital. Opened in 2016, it remains unique in the state.

At CareFirst, the Healthworx team came together in mid-2018, said Director of Innovation Partnerships Michael Batista. The corporate venture and development arm is building a portfolio of direct investments in companies, as well as strategic partnerships. Based out of the Canton Crossing headquarters, it has an eight-member core team with supports from around the organization.

For CareFirst and the Healthworx team, the event is an inflection point for engaging with the startup community.

The team first worked with companies seeking a partner to validate diagnostic tests, and has since expanded the scope to include healthcare technology and service companies, focusing on solutions that address the needs of the insurer and members.

Along with its own investment process, the team is interested in engaging with businesses “who clearly have forward-looking views and whose solutions have the potential to make a substantial impact three to five years down the road,” Batista said.

“The Innovation Challenge is an inflection point for CareFirst, and more specifically Healthworx, to open its doors to startups at the cutting edge of healthcare,” he said.

In the startup-engagement area, both teams believe they can learn from each other. For instance, LifeBridge’s bioincubator program “is an example the Healthworx team at CareFirst can learn from as we ramp up our own programs,” Batista said. And the teams believe there are opportunities to work together beyond the event, as well.

Announced in March, the innovation challenge drew more than 100 applications from around the world. The field then narrowed from 20 semifinalists last month, to the six who will present Tuesday.

They are:

  • Docket, which is partnering with public health agencies to expand access to immunization records with human-centric design and QR codes
  • Kermit, a company supplying real-time data on implantable medical device transactions to reduce costs and improve patient care
  • Nest Collaborative, a startup offering lactation support via video chat
  • Pilleve, maker of a smartphone application that prevents opioid misuse by monitoring a person’s intake and securely holding the drugs
  • Rubitection, a company developing a system for the early detection and intervention of bedsores.
  • Socially Determined, which is focused on the science of social determinants of health and implementing community-based intervention programs
Companies: CareFirst

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