UPMC, the Pittsburgh-based health care network, is expected to go live this month with an important enhancement to its telehealth program. UPMC will deploy a comprehensive cloud-based platform that will facilitate virtual care visits to those with chronic diseases.

Initially, the program from Vivify Health, Plano, Texas, will be deployed across two service lines: patients with congestive heart failure and those in the UPMC Health Plan’s advanced illness care program. The system will enable patients to transmit biometric data and other information easily through any consumer mobile device directly to care teams for analysis and rapid follow-up.

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“We’ve been working on a large programmatic redesign for two years and vendor selection was part of it, but we’ve developed a model that supports chronic care management using all of these tools we have at home, such as survey questions, weight, blood pressure and pulse oximetry data,” says Andrew Watson, M.D., medical director of telemedicine and vice president of UPMC International.

The data will be captured and transmitted by patients from their homes or wherever they travel using kits provided by UPMC that contain off-the-shelf devices or via the patient’s personal mobile devices.

“As all of this rich data comes in, we will look at it, triage it, memorialize it in our electronic health record systems and feed it up to the front lines of medicine for real-time decision-making,” Watson explains.

If all goes as expected, the program will reduce readmissions and entry to UPMC facilities through the emergency department, and improve clinical efficiency while streamlining communications and achieving higher levels of patient engagement and satisfaction.

Mission-critical innovation

As an integrated health care provider and insurer, UPMC for more than a decade now has honed its remote patient monitoring strategies. It’s all part of UPMC’s long-standing mission to continuously improve patient outcomes, increase efficiency and reduce costs. It also explains why UPMC Enterprises — the innovation and commercialization arm of UPMC — decided to make a significant financial stake in Vivify Health as it became a customer of the company.

“What we saw in Vivify was a young company that had a product set that would fit both our health services division and help our health plan do a better job of providing services,” says C. Talbot Heppenstall Jr., president of UPMC Enterprises. “And by becoming an investor, it simply tightens the relationship between UPMC and Vivify Health. Our incentives are aligned to ensure that [Vivify Health’s] product road map rolls out quickly and is extremely successful by being tested and used here everyday.”

For Vivify Health, which has contracts with health systems representing more than 500 hospitals, the project is significant as well, says Eric Rock, the company’s CEO.

“Working with a leading integrated payer and provider organization is very exciting for Vivify. We have the opportunity to demonstrate Vivify’s ability to shape behaviors for the rising risk population, while reducing acute utilization for the high-risk population. Also, as payer and provider organizations begin to work ever more closely together, it becomes more and more critical to have tools that can be leveraged across both organizations to improve outcomes and reduce costs,” Rock says.

UPMC is not alone when it comes to investing in innovative technology companies. Many prominent health care organizations such as Kaiser Permanente, Ascension Health, Partners HealthCare and Cleveland Clinic have long-established venture funds or other formal enterprises for developing and commercializing innovations.

What’s not as well-known is how innovation centers like UPMC Enterprises function from a business and governance perspective and how they leverage their in-house intellectual property and financial resources to advance care and cut costs.

Currently, UPMC Enterprises and its staff of roughly 200 are involved in 14 commercial partnerships. That includes the Vivify Health deal and two other partnerships announced in late February. In those deals, UPMC Enterprises took a majority interest in medCPU, a New York developer of real-time decision support solutions to improve patient outcomes, and provided a portion of the $70 million in capital Health Catalyst of Salt Lake City obtained to fund the company’s continuing expansion in the health care data warehousing, analytics and outcomes improvement space.

Part of corporate DNA

As is the case with many other large integrated health care delivery systems, UPMC sees its innovation center as an essential component of its corporate strategy. “For nearly 20 years, UPMC has leveraged its clinical and technological expertise to develop innovative health care products and services; UPMC Enterprises is just the latest embodiment of that strategy,” says Jeffrey Romoff, UPMC president and CEO. “Innovation is part of our DNA, and we think it’s critical to sustaining our world-renowned integrated health system as health care moves from volume to value.”

Founded about 18 months ago, UPMC Enterprises represents a consolidation of prior resources devoted to commercialization and an increase in the amount of resources that UPMC is devoting to lead the changes that health care needs in both Western Pennsylvania and across the country, Heppenstall says.

UPMC Enterprises deploys the clinical, technical, business and capital resources needed to develop, test and deliver health care products and services that will improve patients’ lives while cutting costs. And as much as this requires careful analysis of its business partners, market opportunities and other factors, Heppenstall says UPMC Enterprises’ initiatives always take a similar path.

“Essentially, we start with what is the problem. When we talk with our colleagues at health services or our health plan about what they’re seeing, our job is to look for solutions, whether it’s a commercial solution, a startup company to provide the solution or whether there isn’t a solution available,” Heppenstall says.

Internally, UPMC Enterprises is overseen by a special committee, which is chaired by the UPMC board chair. Romoff and a committee of top executives representing both the provider and insurance units of the health system are responsible for management oversight of the Enterprises group.

When the Enterprises group decides to become an investor in a company, it typically gets a seat on the board of these firms. All profits generated from these investments are reinvested to support the health care and research missions of UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh, from which UPMC started.

“We really think we can make a difference here in the U.S. and across the world. We’ve had an international division since the mid-1990s. We’re excited about fixing the problems here in the U.S. and then taking the solutions internationally,” Heppenstall says.

Of course, UPMC Enterprises will face competition along the way in its journey — and not just from the largest health systems in the country.

“Our competition includes both what our peer groups are doing — offering the customer relationship — and what the venture capitalists are doing, which is offering companies money. Our strategy is to compete with both of them and to tie those two interests together,” Heppenstall says.

And no matter where health care policy is headed in the next election and beyond, UPMC Enterprises doesn’t see its mission changing, only the level of competition.

“In terms of who has to [innovate] in health care, I can make an argument that everyone has to do it. Everybody has to reduce costs. Everybody has to provide better quality. The entities that aren’t doing it just won’t be around,” Heppenstall says. — Bob Kehoe is a senior editor with H&HN.


Recent UPMC Enterprises partnerships at a glance

UPMC Enterprises, the innovation and commercialization arm of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center health system, recently announced partnerships or expanded relationships with four technology vendors. Here are snapshots of these initiatives.

Partnership: Health Catalyst

In furthering its relationship with Health Catalyst, UPMC co-led an effort to raise $70 million in funding for the Salt Lake City data warehousing, analytics and outcomes improvement solutions vendor. The money will help Health Catalyst continue its evolution from an offline data aggregator and analysis company to a real-time data production and decision-support company, integrating the knowledge from its data content and analytics into the decision workflow of clients and patients anywhere and on any device. 

Partnership: medPCU

UPMC took a majority interest in this New York company that focuses on real-time, decision-support solutions. As part of the deal, UPMC will also co-develop with the firm additional products aimed at improving patient outcomes. In addition to the stock purchase, UPMC Enterprises will lead an investment round of $35 million in new capital to accelerate the company’s expansion. The partnership will deliver immediate benefits to UPMC clinicians and patients but, in the longer term, the deal will facilitate the development of other data-dependent applications in such areas as care management, population health and consumer engagement.

Partnership: Lantern

UPMC led a $17 million round of funding for San Francisco-based Lantern, an evidence-based online mental health wellness services company. The effort is aimed at transforming the way emotional well-being services are delivered and accessed. UPMC will partner with Lantern to leverage its platform within myriad clinical settings and conditions. UPMC clinicians will work with Lantern on pilots aimed at expanding its programs to additional behavioral health issues and potentially to populations of patients with more complex conditions.

Partnership: Vivify Health

UPMC led a $17 million round of funding for this Plano, Texas-based vendor that helps health care providers to deliver remote health care services to unlimited patient populations via the cloud and the consumer’s mobile device of choice. More than 500 hospitals and payer organizations use the company’s digital health solutions for virtual care visits, remote patient monitoring, patient education and more. UPMC will use the platform beginning this month across two key service lines: patients with congestive heart failure and those in UPMC health plan’s advanced illness care program, with expanding uses cases to follow shortly thereafter.