December 30, 2016
By: Brian Kalis

A creativity convergence is building across industries. Why not healthcare, too?

It’s one of today’s fastest-growing business trends. Yet when I mention “open innovation” to people in healthcare, they often appear puzzled.

“Open innovation” sounds impressive, I hear them thinking. But what is he talking about?

Imagine a company with R&D activities that span the globe, with a bevy of outside research partners comprising universities, venture capitalists, even hungry start-ups. No walls hinder their vision. It’s the world of open innovation, and it’s going on everywhere. Legacy corporations are forging partnerships with digital innovation hubs emerging across the globe to develop and execute new ideas.

To date, open innovation has been slowly filtering into healthcare. But there’s been an uptick lately, thanks to the digitization of everything, liquid customer expectations, trapped intelligence and regulatory reforms including the Affordable Care Act. This is in addition to an aging population and a chronic disease explosion which requires fresh thinking around lowering costs and improving treatment options with new and novel services.

On the health plan side, consider Aetna’s collaboration with a small, New York-based digital health services platform—Newtopia. Together, they developed a holistic program around treating metabolic syndrome, a leading cause of diabetes and heart disease. Newtopia developed a highly personalized, high-tech approach to identify risk factors and achieve better outcomes among participants; together with Aetna’s scale and service model, the success in reducing costs and improving health has been significant.

There’s also another benefit: By working with a smaller, more agile partner, Aetna took the risk-reduction program from research to market years ahead of traditional practice with demonstrated clinical and financial evidence.

Before open innovation was introduced as a concept, a major insurance carrier allying itself with a small independent operation would have been unthinkable. Now it’s reality.

Ongoing advances via open-innovation partnerships include increasing consumer engagement, improving back office workflows and forging new solutions around digital therapeutics. The field is still very much in flux, with major players just starting to enter, one reason I find this topic so exciting.

There are risks with open innovation. Often there are substantial cultural gaps between players, or broad differences in measuring success. For this reason, open-innovation channels have come to include “bridgemakers,” a topic I plan to discuss in my next post.

What are your thoughts about open innovation in healthcare? I look forward to hearing from you.

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