As North Shore-LIJ's executive director of joint ventures, Thomas Thornton identifies and fosters innovations that enhance the growth of North Shore-LIJ initiatives. Working with senior leadership, he cultivates partnerships and brings new ideas and business opportunities into practice throughout the health system.
In this installment of Blog onHealth’s Leadership Series, Mr. Thornton explains how the health system develops new technologies, devices and services and brings them to market and details the North Shore-LIJ’s focus on developing patient-engagement apps.
Question from interviewer: What is North Shore Ventures?
Mr. Thornton: North Shore Ventures is the corporate venturing arm of North Shore-LIJ. We do four things. First, we interact with employees to identify ideas, concepts, technologies, devices and services that they’ve developed. We work with them to develop those ideas with the ultimate goal of commercialization.
Second, we look at markets we’re not currently in to identify opportunities and if appropriate to develop plans to go into those markets.
Third, we develop joint ventures with other corporate partners in areas where we see substantial opportunity to co-invest. We are doing a great deal of that in the ambulatory elements of North Shore-LIJ’s care continuum. ]
And last, we work closely with our employees to create a culture of innovation and creativity and look to sustain that as an important part of North Shore-LIJ’s identity.
Q: Through North Shore Ventures, the health system has established several spin-off companies including Vanguard Research Group. Provide an overview of this venture and why it is promising as a commercial enterprise?
Mr. Thornton: A key part of what we do at North Shore Ventures is assess the internal capabilities of the system and determine if some of those capabilities can be commercialized outside of North Shore-LIJ. Vanguard Research is a wonderful example of that.
Vanguard was developed in part through the research conducted by Dr. John Kane; specifically around a large federal research grant related to schizophrenia. He established a large network of community mental health sites around the country, and as the grant was winding down, the question became “What do we do with these sites and the relationship that we formed with these sites?”
It became obvious to us that the national network of community mental health centers we had established was in fact the basis of a clinical research organization, or CRO. We also recognized that there were a substantial amount of new drugs in the pipeline of large pharma that were specific to behavioral health. We have effectively launched a niche CRO that caters to early stage drug development in the behavioral health space. We believe that with our first contract and others that are in the pipeline we can be a dominant leader in this market.
North Shore Ventures Goes Mobile
Q: Tell us about the work you are doing in mobile applications.
Mr. Thornton: North Shore-LIJ has an extraordinary amount of innovation occurring in mobile applications, specifically in the area of patient engagement. We have a structured program underway to identify those applications, and to determine if we can turn them into licenses or new ventures.
One of the companies we formed is CirrusHealth, an electronic patient discharge application. Instead of leaving the hospital with a ream of discharge instructions, we effectively provide discharge instructions in a mobile application. Patients can easily access discharge instructions, be reminded of medications they need to take, see their films and X-rays, and tap the screen to call their physician. We can check up on patients with respect to a symptom tracker and we can schedule appointments or remind patients of appointments. This application manages a patient’s care post-discharge using technology that every patient that comes to North Shore-LIJ Hospital uses today – a mobile phone.
Q: What criteria are used to determine which products to develop?
Mr. Thornton: North Shore Ventures operates much like a venture fund. We are selective about the products and the projects we choose to develop. We evaluate products based on several factors including the market size they serve, competition, how developed the product is and additional capital required to bring it to market.
Q: What are the potential benefits of these projects to patients?
Mr. Thornton: Ultimately, this is about patient care and the unfair advantage we have is that we are doing this from an inside-out perspective. We first clinically validate the technologies, the devices, the drugs, the HIT [health information technology] applications, then use the know-how of our administrators, clinicians, and researchers to validate them. This is unique among large health care systems.
Patients are excited about these technologies, particularly the mobile applications. We can engage them in a way that is not only beneficial to their care but also reflects our brand.
Q: What types of commercial activities should we expect to see in the next year or two?
Mr. Thornton: North Shore-LIJ is recognized as one of the most innovative health care systems in the country and the activities that North Shore Ventures is working to commercialize is a component of that innovation. Our size and our reputation is attractive to large corporate partners looking to either get into the health care market or looking to commercialize the products or services that we have developed.
The areas that we are really excited about relate to selling our services to other health systems. This includes purchasing, lab, administrative and clinical services. Another compelling area is to affiliate with other health systems to leverage clinical trials. We formed a start-up company in that area which is the largest performer of clinical trials in New York State. Developing those relationships further both in conjunction with other health systems and with large pharma is something that interests us. We are also interested in health care information technology. The innovation that is occurring inside North Shore-LIJ combined with the size of our health system is extremely attractive to technology companies looking to partner.