Health innovation takes center stage

I had the recent privilege of participating in the 1st Annual International Conference on Health Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Oklahoma City. The event was admirably organized by Dr. Rubin Pillay, the Daniel White Jordan Professor at the School of Entrepreneurship at the Spears Business School at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater.

International participants representing academia, industry, service providers, payers, health and the investment community assembled to compare notes and assess the current state of education, research, and the practice of health innovation and entrepreneurship. After two full days of seminars, breakout sessions, networking events and plenary sessions, several things were evident.

First, health innovation and entrepreneurship is seen as the savior of a badly broken and failing system. Tinkering around the edges, incremental change and gradually moving the dial will not fix the grave systemic ills that characterize a crumbling system. Speaker after speaker, regardless of their discipline or country of origin, agreed that new models are desperately needed, particularly given the challenges of disruptions in manpower supply and demand, aging populations and global economies on their knees.

Second, attention seems to have shifted from medtech and biotech innovation to health innovation. Whereas the former -- characterized by FDA or other regulatory agency approval -- grinds along in an environment of collapsing venture capital markets, anemic IPOs and increasing uncertainty and regulation from the FDA, health innovation -- consisting mostly of healthcare IT, business models and processes and care delivery innovations -- seems to be getting a lot more attention.

The artificial dichotomy between the two still seems miles apart. In addition, the medical-industrial complex -- consisting of industry, the FDA and payers -- seems to have increasingly ignored the vast numbers of  doctors and patients when it comes to product development  and sourcing ideas. Only recently have they embraced open innovation, crowdsourcing and physician entrepreneurs working in the non-academic trenches.

Third, we need to make health innovation and entrepreneurship a legitimate academic domain. There are big gaps in our understanding of what drives health innovation, success factors, and educational and training standards for the 21st century healthcare workforce. To that end, several attendees created The Society of Health Entrepreneurship Education and Research and created a LinkedIn group to begin building a global community of interest that will be the foundation of future growth of the specialty.

Health innovators, not healthcare innovators, as was pointed out by one speaker, will create the future of what looks to be an almost unrecognizable landscape when compared to today. The major themes will be a systems approach, using technology to measure process improvement, eliminating waste, creating alternatives to hospital based and office based care, using mid-level providers more efficiently, and empowering patients to share care decisions and to make smart healthy behavior choices.

There are certainly turbulent times ahead. But, with the engagement of health innovators and entrepreneurs, like those that assembled in the Sooner State for the first of planned annual global meetings, the future looks bright. Come and share the spotlight.

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