Harvard Medical School launches InciteHealth Initiative to Support Budding Healthcare Innovators

Harvard Medical School launched InciteHealth; a yearlong, part-time program aimed at transforming primary care through the creation of new ventures.

For example, people normally see a primary care doctor for 15 minutes to assess general health. But what if a primary care prevention coach, using an app-based tool, was used to prevent chronic health conditions. That was one example of the pitches given at "Harvard Medical School's Center for Primary Care InciteHealth Pitch Day," which presented new ideas to innovate medicine and the delivery of care.

The event at the Microsoft Nerd Center in Cambridge, MA featured a keynote speech, presentations from Harvard I-Lab Startups Buoy Health and Klio Health, and pitches designed to marry entrepreneurship, tech, and health care.

"There's a gap between the change layer - the digital health startups, the hackathons, the accelerators - and the reality layer, where most patients receive care," said Pitch Day keynote speaker Dr. Sachin H. Jain, a Harvard MD-MBA and the Chief Medical Officer at CareMore Health System. "Our challenge over the next several years is to close the gap between these layers." This is why Dr. H. Jain was excited about Harvard Medical School's InciteHealth Initiative.

InciteHealth is an innovation platform sponsored by Harvard Medical School's Center for Primary Care, which emphasizes rapid prototyping and including patients during every stage of development. The goal is to design patient-centric solutions that lead to better care, improved health, more collaboration, and reduced costs in primary care. Harvard provides access to training, mentors, and in-kind resources to Fellows. The Director of Harvard's Center for Primary Care, Russ Phillips, MD, said, "What we're really looking for InciteHealth Fellows to do is to reinvent the future of healthcare. [Fellows] come together to form teams and come to go through a design thinking approach, where they are trying to understand from a patient perspective what some of the problems are that we are facing in primary care and health." This year's InciteHealth Fellows came from all over the country and from various industries; the cohort includes an applied mathematician, computer scientists, bioengineers, medical scribes, medical students, and hospital architects.

These multidisciplinary teams came together for five weekends in Boston, where they learned design thinking and startup methodology, and, most importantly, they got an opportunity to work with world-class experts to understand more about the problems in health care before developing solutions. Thereafter, they participated in a Patient Shark Tank at the Harvard Medical School Innovations Conference and year-end Pitch Day. I was invited to present a poster at the Harvard Innovations Conference, where I sat through InciteHealth Fellows' pitches at a first-of-its-kind Patient Shark Tank and later attended the year-end Pitch Day.

The notion of a prevention coach as an addition to the primary care provider, as it applies to chronic health conditions, was offered by the Founders of Caravan Prevention and InciteHealth Fellows: Joshua Prasad MPH, Dan Weisberg, MD, Alex Weiner, MPH, and Chethan Bachireddy, MD. They were one of 6 InciteHealth Fellow teams that pitched to the star-studded judges.

The all-star judges for Pitch Day were: Scott Bailey, Managing Director of MassChallenge Boston, which is the self-proclaimed world's biggest and first organization to support high-impact, early-stage entrepreneurs; Dr. Nathalie Bloch, assistant Medical Director for quality improvement and innovation at Mount Auburn Cambridge Independent Practice Association and an executive consultant with the Center for Digital Innovation in Israel; Hugo Van Vuuren, Co-founder and Partner at Xfund, an early-stage venture capital, and Expert-in-Residence at the Harvard John A Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences; and lastly, Dr. Joe Corkery, the product management lead for the Healthcare & Life Sciences Space for Google Cloud Platform.

Caravan Prevention won the judges over and received a $25,000 grant to redesign prevention in primary care by connecting patients with expert prevention coaches, using a digital platform, and revitalizing the front end of a clinic's population health management.

Caravan's preventative health coaching model is disruptive. Annually, 60 million lives would be saved with improved tobacco, colorectal, and breast cancer screening - $130 billion annual cost savings! By embedding Caravan prevention coaches into primary care settings, they would be able to create a culture of wellness. Dr. Chethan Bachireddy, a Caravan team member, explained how they plan to develop pay per patient contracts by coordinating with employers like Johnson and Johnson. He showed a graphic illustrating a potential $720,000 direct savings for companies with 10,000 employees.

When asked about patient engagement by the judges, Alex Weiner, MPH, said he believes patients appreciate Caravan's approach because they assuage patients' worries in the cancer prevention process - specifically, when getting colonoscopies. The team of course wants to prevent cancer to begin with, but believes their model has the potential to ameliorate more chronic health diseases.

"With the $25,000, the incredible mentorship we've received through the Center for Primary Care, and the phenomenal primary care network in Boston, we're in a position to hire a prevention coach and place them in a clinic to pilot Caravan's model for prevention," said the Caravan Prevention Team. "Simultaneously, we are building our digital platform, which will be an invaluable tool for the prevention coaches, providers, and patients in the confusing and ever-changing realm of preventative health."

Although Caravan was the winner, I attended both the First and Final Pitch sessions and was extrememly impressed by all of the InciteHealth Fellow Ventures, such as Lively, Team Luigi, Sherbit Health, SamePage, and PRIMR.

Jacky Kwan, co-founder of Lively, described his wife's scary cancer screenings and short consultations, which were ambiguous and uninformative. This was his motivation for creating Lively: a health care communication portal that helps patients, doctors, and family members connect, share medical files, and support one another. Kwan noted that 62% of doctors still use fax for their communications, which is why he wants them to use his HIPPA compliant platform. Kwan and wife, Hye Ra Moon, a Data Science student at Berkeley in California, hope to promote empathy and reimagine healthcare communication systems.

Team Luigi is focusing on creating a patient platform for shared decision making. The tool will assist patients with non-emergent medical conditions who are faced with choosing the best treatment for their unique lifestyle and personal priorities. To do this, it will integrate patient choices, evidence-based research, and machine learning algorithms to create a guide and checklist of discussion points for the patient/physician appointment.

SamePage is a mobile platform that provides education, guidance, and support to medically complex teens as they transition into adult care. Co-founder MaryCate ZippRich highlighted an appalling statistic: 12 million children have chronic illness and have tough transitions from pediatric to adult care. According to the American Association of Pediatrics, "most Pediatrics neither initiated transitioning planning or offered transition planning." SamePage empowers teens to self-manage their care and prepares them for a lifetime of health advocacy.

Dr. Nicholas Soulakis, founder of PRIMR, is building an enterprise solution that leverages data science to improve primary care clinics. He is building an enterprise solution that aims to deliver easier, faster, lower-cost technical services than what is currently available to most primary care providers.

App-based health care tool, Sherbit Health, intends to integrate health data with smartphone data so that patients can better understand their overall health and have more meaningful dialogues with their doctors. Cofounders Sameer Sood, a 4th year medical student, and Sandeep Palakodeti, MD, want to create a movement aimed at empowering patients by providing them with the means to understand, own, and become experts on how their behaviors and lives affect their health. They plan to integrate with IBM Watson to develop a predictive analytics tool. Sood said, "We imagine a world where Chronic Health replaces Chronic Disease."

Harvard's Center for Primary Care is providing InciteHealth Fellows with the tools to create new startups, but the institution is also trying to create trailblazers who go on to innovate the healthcare field throughout their careers.

Dr. Urvi Vyas said in InciteHealth's About Us video: "I admire each step of the innovation process when we ask questions like: 'Are we helping patients?' 'What do the patients want?' 'What do they need?' It's not about clinicians, insurance companies, or any of the other players; it's about the patients. I am going to be a crusader for patient-centric design."

InciteHealth Program Director Paola Abello said, "We are so inspired by our inaugural teams and expect several of them to translate into real solutions impacting primary care. We are looking forward to supporting a new cohort of innovators this fall and will be recruiting heavily from the Harvard community."