10 Reasons Why Colorado is the Nation’s Top Health Innovation Ecosystem

During the 2016 Prime Health Challenge, I announced that Colorado was the top health innovation ecosystem in the nation. A number of factors influenced this announcement, including Colorado’s ranking as the country’s fastest growing economy, top labor supply, and best place to live.

But it was also influenced by an assessment of our statewide health innovation ecosystem according to 10 metrics adapted from the Rotman School of Management’s Report on Global Accelerators and Innovation Hubs.

Today, I’m sharing this assessment to substantiate Prime Health’s claim to the number one ranking, and to challenge other regions to rank their own ecosystems according to these metrics.

1. Is there a focus on creating digital health solutions in the ecosystem?

Our statewide health innovation ecosystem is dedicated to using digital technology to transform the delivery of care. Organizations like Boomtown Health-Tech Accelerator in Boulder, meetups like Colorado Emerging Medical Device in Denver, and initiatives like Innosphere’s digital health program in cities throughout the Front Range exemplify this focus.

2. Do the members of the ecosystem have experience supporting large-scale initiatives?

The members of our ecosystem include several established healthcare organizations capable of supporting large-scale initiatives, such as Kaiser Permanente, Centura, and HCA. Additionally, the ecosystem itself has been developing this capacity through broad mobilizations like 10.10.10 Health and the Prime Health Challenge, which have consistently convened hundreds of clinicians, executives, technologists, entrepreneurs, and investors to accelerate the adoption of innovation within the healthcare system.

This capacity is further augmented by the State of Colorado, which has implemented a Medicaid expansion, created a state-run health insurance exchange, and is currently the recipient of a $65 million grant from CMS to build a State Innovation Model focused on transforming clinical practice.

3. Is the ecosystem partnered with healthcare providers?

The healthcare system’s current transition from a fee-for-service model to value-based care has motivated a multitude of providers to participate in Colorado’s health innovation ecosystem. Prime Health has identified 46 such providers currently engaging with our ecosystem, including Children’s Hospital Colorado, Denver Health, and Florida Hospital.

4. Is the ecosystem partnered with corporations?

Because corporations can drive the adoption of innovation by serving as highly effective channel partners for startups, we view corporate partnerships as vital to the health of our ecosystem. Prime Health is currently working with a range of corporate partners, from Davita and Google, to the members of the Colorado Business Group on Health.

5. Is the ecosystem partnered with investors?

While our corporate partners are driving the adoption of innovation in Colorado, investors are fueling its growth. Our organization has identified 15 investment firms currently funding Prime Health’s portfolio companies, including Grayhawk Capital, Silicon Valley Bank, and Arsenal Ventures.

6. Is the ecosystem partnered with governmental and regulatory bodies?

Strong partnerships with regulatory bodies are vital to developing reimbursement measures for digital health interventions. With this in mind, Prime Health is working closely with the State of Colorado’s eHealth Commission, as well as its Office of Health Innovation, which oversees the development of policy regarding the funding of Medicaid in Colorado.

7. Does support for the development and scaling of innovation exist within the ecosystem?

With major healthcare providers like Kaiser Permanente, Centura, and HCA, large payer organizations like Aetna, United Healthcare, and Blue Cross Blue Shield, and benefit management consultancies like Lockton, Mercer, and Gallagher serving Colorado’s more than 5 million residents, the answer is emphatically yes. Thanks to organizations like 10.10.10 Health, Prime Health, and Startup Health Colorado, the stream of new technologies flowing into these channels is sure to remain constant.

8. Does a virtual and physical support structure exist for the entrepreneurs within the ecosystem?

The physical support structure for entrepreneurs that exists within Colorado is remarkable. Innovators in our state have access to co-working spaces like Galvanize, accelerators like TechStars, and incubators like Innovation Pavilion. To support these entrepreneurs virtually, Prime Health recently launched Prime Health Collaborate, an online collaboration platform powered by the Salesforce Foundation.

9. How accessible is information within the ecosystem?

Colorado is home to one of the largest startup weeks in the country, which provides attendees with more than 300 learning sessions. Prime Health further improves access to information for the members of our ecosystem through its monthly meetups, quarterly summits, and annual challenge.

10. What evidence exists to support the efficacy of the ecosystem in driving innovation?

As of this year’s Prime Health Challenge, our organization has funded 15 health innovation pilots with $430,000 from the Colorado Health Foundation. Using Prime Health Qualify, we have vetted 69 digital health companies, which have collectively raised $34 million.

Jeffrey Nathanson
President & CEO
Prime Health

Emerging Opportunities for Digital Health Technology

On October 7th, I had the honor to participate in a workshop in Phoenix, Arizona as part of the Society of General Internal Medicine Mountain West Regional Meeting.  General Internists from Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada and Wyoming participated in our workshop titled “There’s an App for That! Emerging Opportunities for Digital Health Technology in General Internal Medicine.”

For this workshop, I was joined by Drew Bolton, MD, a third year primary care resident from the University of Colorado, Chip Brunk, CEO of TestAppropriate, and Zach Johnson, Product Lead for C3LX, 2 digital health companies located in the Denver area.  I first met Chip and Zach through the PrimeHealth 2015 Digital Health Challenge, and we have continued to work together since that meeting to test their products within our clinic.

The first part of the workshop was an overview of the definition of digital health and a review of some of the medical literature regarding digital health research.  The group had a spirited discussion debating and dissecting the studies, and even though overall the initial data is somewhat limited and disappointing, the opportunity to learn from these early trials to develop new protocols was energizing.

Dr Bolton and I discussed how existing digital health apps such as the AHRQ ePSS app, the ASCVD Risk app, Calorific and Up-to-Date can be used to educate medical students, medical residents and patients in the clinic at the point of care.  I even served as a test subject to demonstrate the Kardia device and app, which records a cardiac rhythm strip using a smartphone (I am proud to say my heart rate stayed below 80!).

The third part of our workshop included Chip providing an overview of TestAppropriate, educating the internists about the upcoming changes as a result of the Protecting Access to Medicare Act of 2014 (PAMA) that will require internists to confirm that they have proactively used a validated tool when ordering cardiac and imaging studies to meet Appropriate Utilization Criteria.  Also presented at the workshop was data from a chart review of 3 years of cardiac testing from Uptown Primary Care that showed 28% of the non-invasive cardiac tests ordered by our physicians were not the most appropriate test, and 57% of the orders were not lowest cost appropriate test.  This provides us with a benchmark to see if implementation of a digital health product such as TestAppropriate will help improve these metrics.

Zach closed out our workshop by describing how general internists can act as advisors and form partnerships with digital health developers that will serve to define and refine digital health products to add value to clinical care, and how digital health developers raise capital in a competitive environment.  As a result of this workshop in the high desert of Arizona, some new contacts were made, new opportunities were presented, the efforts of Colorado in being a regional and national leader in Digital Health were highlighted, and opportunities for the specialty of general internal medicine to advance digital health were promoted.

Dr. Scott Joy 
Medical Director
Uptown Primary Care
Presbyterian/St Luke’s Medical Center/The Colorado Health Foundation