HHS to healthcare business owners: Got any bright ideas?

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Brian O'Connell

Amidst all the ongoing hoopla over the healthcare reform passage, and subsequent battle in the courts over the law’s legitimacy, industry observers are asking one simple, yet important, question.

“Where is the innovation?”

If any industry is screaming for new ideas, it’s the healthcare sector. Total costs related to U.S. healthcare reached $2.8 trillion in 2009, according to figures from Deloitte.

Most economists expect that figure to grow over the next decade, so the pressure’s on to figure out new ways to keep healthcare costs down, but quality healthcare up.

That’s why Uncle Sam is making the “innovation” question official, through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services “Innovations Exchange.” The exchange is administered by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (which operates under the Department of HHS).

The agency’s website describes the Innovations Exchange as a way that industry professionals can exchange bold, new ideas and potentially get help putting them into play in the healthcare market.

Here’s how the AHRQ describes the initiative:

The AHRQ Health Care Innovations Exchange defines health care innovation as the implementation of new or altered products, services, processes, systems, organizational structures, or business models that aim to improve one or more domains of health care quality or reduce health care disparities.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality wants to hear about your innovative efforts to improve the delivery of health care services, or use public health approaches to promote healthy weight, and invites you to participate in the AHRQ Health Care Innovations Exchange.

AHRQ does not want to put too tight a frame around this term. Innovation can mean different things to different people, depending on sector as well as organizational and other contextual factors. An activity that is standard practice in one health care system or public health setting may be cutting-edge for another. Our goal is to cast a wide net that allows for differences across the health care industry and public health activities aimed at healthy weight. The Innovations Exchange includes clinical and non-clinical activities and tools that vary in degree of novelty, effects on quality or disparities, and level of supporting evidence.

Through the AHRQ Health Care Innovations Exchange, entrepreneurs and healthcare professionals search approximately 400 profiles that cover healthcare innovations and ideas in myriad areas, including:

  • health information technology 
  • nursing care 
  • patient safety 
  • cultural competence 
  • preventive services

The exchange also offers resources to help measure ongoing healthcare innovation initiatives, and provides articles and white papers on key industry topics. The exchange welcomes ideas from entrepreneurs, giving business owners a good networking forum, and a good sounding board for new ideas.

What kind of ideas is the agency looking to share? The AHRQ isn’t as clear on that. What they do say is that the AHRQ is especially interested in ideas focused on high-profile demographics, like low-income groups, minority groups, women, children, the elderly, and individuals with special healthcare needs.

Currently, the HHS is also funding statewide innovation initiatives designed to improve the quality of healthcare. The government grants the money to states, which in turn dole it out to healthcare entities to apply their ideas to the marketplace. In February, the HHS delivered $241 million in funding to “early innovator” states to beef up their statewide healthcare innovation efforts.

While the actual AHRQ Innovations Exchange doesn’t directly fund healthcare entrepreneurs’ ideas, it does draw entrepreneurs closer to potential capital fund providers. Plus, the exchange does give those entrepreneurs that sounding board, and a place to connect with groups and individuals who may one day fund their companies and their ideas.

So if you’re a healthcare entrepreneur with a bright idea, Uncle Sam wants to hear about it. To make your case, reach out to the AHRQ at info@innovations.ahrq.gov.

When you do, make sure you follow the agency’s application directions (as follows):

  • Name of the main organization, along with any other organizations that are participating in the innovation
  • Name and title of the submitter
  • Contact information for the submitter (e-mail address and phone number)
  • Brief description of the innovation
  • Brief description of results, including any impact on the delivery of patient care or on factors related to healthy weight
  • Description of the healthcare setting (e.g., hospital, community clinic, nursing home) or the setting of public health activities related to healthy weight
  • Description of the population on which the innovation is focused, if any (e.g., the elderly, children, racial or ethnic group)
  • Any funding sources for the innovation

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