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  • Writer's picturePam King Sams

A model for improved outcomes: Penn Medicine’s Innovation Accelerator.

By Frank Otto

Back to Health Care’s Other Big Challenges: Return of the Innovation Accelerator

“Wait, doesn’t it sound like 80 percent of the juice is still left to be squeezed on that project?” said Roy Rosin, chief innovation officer at Penn Medicine.

“We think there isn’t as much juice as originally thought,” someone explained.

“And we think the juice doesn’t taste that good,” another person clarified, to a smattering of laughs in the digital meeting room.

This exchange occurred about an hour into the first selection meeting for the Penn Medicine Center for Health Care Innovation’s flagship program, the Innovation Accelerator. Leaders and staff were discussing projects vying to be accepted into the Accelerator’s 2021 class. As alluded to by Rosin, the program seeks to squeeze some juice out of the problems often considered to be impenetrable in health care.

That juice comes in the form of improved patient outcomes, streamlined operations to ease the daily grind for clinicians, reducing the cost of care and wasteful spending, or all of the above. Past projects yielded novel, leading care models like a method to screen for hidden and undiagnosed mental health conditions among hospitalized patients, a program for comprehensively supporting opioid use patients, and eliminating 80 percent of high blood pressure and related readmissions among new mothers.

The Accelerator is normally an annual fixture of the Center for Health Care Innovation, but there was no class in 2020. Most of the Center’s staff had been dispatched on various projects to battle COVID-19, tackling everything from enabling telehealth visits and making emergency department intake safe during the first wave of the pandemic to engineering a portable mass vaccine clinic program this year.

On top of that, one of the projects from the 2019 class — a pilot program for safely administering chemotherapy at home — was fitted out to take on 10 times as many patients as initially planned. And other prior projects such as earlier discharge for new moms also became central to Penn Medicine’s COVID-19 response as safe ways to keep people out of the hospital became essential, driving expansion. You could say that the Center for Health Care Innovation was away at war.

So the mere fact that a 2021 class is being selected is another welcoming sign of the approach of normalcy. And while the Center’s extraordinary work during COVID-19 was invaluable, it was comforting to hear them talk — and get genuinely excited about — the nitty-gritty of typical health system operations and the largely under-the-radar problems, albeit in a video meeting setting.

“Being part of Penn’s COVID-19 response was energizing for our team during a difficult time, but we’re excited to return to solving big, ongoing challenges in health care,” Rosin said. “The Accelerator program allows us to work closely with clinical and business leaders designing high-value care models, so it’s fun to pick our heads back up, look forward, and engage on changing the future trajectory of care delivery.”

After that initial session, a round of interviews with finalists, input from system executives and another selection meeting, the Center chose the group of projects with which it will resume its accelerator.

Over the next six months — co-sponsored by United Healthcare for the fifth time — staff from the Center’s Acceleration Lab and Center for Digital Health will work closely with the teams to gain a deep understanding of the problems they’re tackling, rapidly test potential solutions, and generate early evidence for real change. In the past, that’s included everything from applying text messaging programs to help care teams better communicate with patients or supplying them with wearable devices to keep tabs on important biometrics.

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