Northwell launches network management platform

Tom Thornton, the former Cleveland Clinic exec who heads Northwell's commercialization effort.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

Northwell Health is off to a fast start.

Just days after it officially rebranded itself, the former North Shore-LIJ Health System announced that it’s forming a new healthcare IT company. Launched in conjunction with Newport Health Solutions – a health-industry consultant with offices in New York City, California and Texas – Health Connect Technologies will focus primarily on developing and commercializing a suite of connectivity-focused network-management products.

Health Connect is a “management solution technological platform” that promotes better collaborative care by connecting physicians, hospitals and other service providers. In addition to providing greater access to a patient’s entire medical journey, the platform has become a multifaceted enterprise solution for healthcare providers, with a growing line of ancillary communication and patient-tracker products designed to satisfy management needs across the provider spectrum.

Many of those add-ons were developed over the last year-and-a-half, while Health Connect was being pilot-tested at Manhattan’s Lenox Hill Hospital, part of the Northwell Health system.

“They developed the platform, but what we have done over the past 18 months or so is tailor it to appropriate uses for practitioners not only here at Northwell, but in our peer organizations,” said Tom Thornton, senior vice president of Northwell Ventures, the health system’s commercialization division.

In August 2015, a little over a year into that Lenox Hill pilot run, Newport Health Solutions and then-North Shore-LIJ signed a letter of intent announcing their plans to further develop and commercialize the Health Connect platform, and to launch Health Connect Technologies.

“The validation we did at Lenox Hill was very important,” Thornton noted. “I would describe it as ‘co-development.’ How do we want this work? How do we load in doctors? When a patient leaves, what bell and whistles does it set off?”

Combining the original Health Connect platform with those refinements and additional protocols has “closed the loop for thousands of patients, dramatically increasing patient satisfaction,” according to Lenox Hill Deputy Executive Director Gus Costalas.

Among the benefits cited by Costalas: Real-time, case-appropriate follow-up care that’s helped reduce patient readmissions and “multiple downstream revenue opportunities for the hospital.”

“The data and analytic reporting empower us with metrics to manage the growth of our patient population and physician network,” Costalas said.

Those are the kinds of results Newport Health Solutions expected when it teamed up with North Shore-LIJ, noted Newport CEO Sophia Teng.

“The partnership will provide significant synergies to take Health Connect to the next level,” Teng said in a statement. “Our collaboration with Northwell’s clinical and administrative leaders have generated solid, proven results.”

Northwell Health is the “minority investor” in the new LLC, according to Thornton, though the health system and Newport Health Solutions both bought cash and intellectual property to the table.

While he wouldn’t confirm that Northwell wanted to make an early splash to differentiate itself from North Shore-LIJ, the commercialization czar said the system’s investment in the IT platform and announcement of the new LLC – conveniently coming days after the rebranding, although it was actually announced over four months ago – was a good example of Northwell’s overall growth strategy.

“There are two ways a large health system can operate,” he said. “You can sit back and just do business as usual, or you can work with tech startups and private equity investors and large corporate partners to develop new technologies that improve the care you offer.

“One of the key parts of our very definite and very well-laid-out strategy is to determine if there are healthcare information technologies that can better enable our strategies,” Thornton added. “[Health Connect Technologies] is one example of the larger fabric and the culture of innovation that will enable our strategy going forward.”

Expect more examples: He wouldn’t say how much was in the pot, but Thornton did reference “a portion of [the health system’s] annual budget” dedicated to investing in new healthcare IT, as well as the active pursuit of disruptive, industry-changing tech – with “a pipeline of something like 36-plus healthcare IT pilots and demonstrations” in the offing.

“We’re not a financial investor,” Thornton noted. “But if we find a technology that can enable our strategy, and work not only for us but for our peer organizations, we’ll consider an investment.”

Though this particular investment began more than a year before North Shore-LIJ changed its name, and formation of the new LLC was well underway by the time officials announced the Northwell Health rebranding, the arrival of Health Connect Technologies has enhanced the palpable positivity filling Northwell’s corridors this month.

“There’s a real buzz now around this name change and a new confidence about our future,” Thornton said. “I live two doors down from a nurse and she is pumped.”

Northwell Health CEO Michael Dowling “firmly believes that having a strong innovation culture is an absolute advantage going forward,” he added. “It will allow us to engage partners who aren’t necessarily traditional to healthcare, meaning tech firms and investors and the like, and that will bring access to new technologies that we firmly believe will make us a better system.”