Cleveland Clinic's innovation secrets

There's no secret sauce to innovation, but Cleveland Clinic seems to have one
By Bernie Monegain
11:03 AM
C. Martin Harris

Cleveland Clinic is in the midst of its annual Cleveland Clinic Medical Innovation Summit today at the new Global Center for Health Innovation. More than 1,100 entrepreneurs, investors, executives and clinicians have gathered for a show and tell of new ideas in the medical world. Cleveland Clinic Chief Information Officer C. Martin Harris talks about how the health system stays nimble on the innovation front.

Cleveland Clinic Innovations, the corporate venturing arm of Cleveland Clinic, was founded in 2000, and it has been hosting the Medical Innovation Summit since 2003. Since Cleveland Clinic Innovations was founded, it has:

  • Filed more 1,600 patents,
  • Obtained more than 400 active licenses
  • Created 57 spin-off companies
  • Received nearly $700 million in equity investment.
  • Generated nearly 1,000 jobs

A week before the summit convened, Healthcare IT News asked C. Martin Harris, Cleveland Clinic’s CIO, how an institution as large as his manages to stay nimble and innovative.

"Innovation is a core value of the Cleveland Clinic, and it always has been," Harris said. "What we have done is to drive a number of programs to really make sure we do not lose the focus on the importance of innovations."

Clinicians are given "innovation days," he explained. They can take a day or two off, find something that intrigues them and go investigate it.

"The only obligation they have is to bring that idea back and to report it out and to engage the institution in conversation around it," Harris said.

Cleveland Clinic Innovations serves as an innovation center, focused on finding those ideas that are fledgling in the organization. The center’s role is to identify those things, bring it into an internal incubator, develop the idea, and decide whether it has real potential on a larger scale.

For example, Harris said, in his division, there is "a little program that we called e-research."

It was an analytics tool built to hang off of the electronic medical record, but specifically to facilitate clinical trial support – identifying those patients that would be eligible for a trial and determining how many patients could be recruited.

"It sounds like a little idea, but for a big pharmaceutical company, if they don’t get this kind of information, then they make the decision to start up a clinical trial, which costs them a million dollars a day, and they don’t actually know whether or not there are recruitable patients out there, they could be spending that money day after day after day, only to find out they can’t complete the study because they could never recruit enough patients.

"Well, in the age of the electronic medical record, that’s knowable, and it fundamentally changes the way they think about designing a study,” he said.

But, the work evolved. "That little development effort that we did for one reason, we recognized that it had real potential in the space of big data," said Harris. "Today, it is one of the leading companies in that space, and independent of the Cleveland Clinic."

It drew the venture capital that it needed. Today, it is no longer in the pharmaceutical arena, but in use in the operational space.

"We see 10,000 patients a week at the Cleveland Clinic," Harris said. "How do we know that we’re caring for them properly? What is their quality scorecard? Who needs follow-up. It is really a big data analytic problem. That’s what that little fledgling company turned into."