Pioneer ACO drives innovation with worldwide competitions, prizes

Editor's Note: This is the second of a two-part interview with Heritage Medical Systems President Mark Wagar. In Part 1, Wagar discussed the importance of clinical leaders in the success of accountable care organizations (ACO). Part 2 highlights the strategies the Heritage Provider Network implements to encourage innovation.

Earlier this month futurist Ian Morrison, Ph.D., called for drastic innovation to improve healthcare delivery; a move, he said, that could only take place if hospitals and health systems create an environment that encourages new ideas.

But for those organizations that are unsure of how to establish this nurturing environment, consider the long-time work of Heritage Provider Network (HPN), one of the country's largest Pioneer accountable care organizations. For years HPN has offered millions of dollars to health innovators through a series of prizes to encourage solutions to the leading health problems in the United States.

Mark Wagar, (pictured) president of Heritage Medical Systems, Palm Springs, California, told FierceHealthcare in an exclusive interview that the competition was inspired by Heritage founder Richard Merkin, who in addition to overseeing the physician-led organization, remains active in research and healthcare education.

"He has found that over the years, some of the best improvements within his own organization were from people not necessarily assigned to that particular function. Sometimes those ideas came from patients or people who worked in an entirely different field," Wagar said.

The competitions vary but the response for all of them, Wagar said, is encouraging. For example, he said, the Merck-HPN Innovation challenge--which called for innovators to submit ideas to enhance patient engagement and adherence to provider-recommended care plans, ultimately improving the quality of life for patients with heart disease and/or diabetes--generated thousands of entries from all over the world.

"The number of respondents was startling," he said.  "We had no idea we would get tens of thousands of initial entries from all over the world. You put something out on the 'Net and media, you expect more of a local response not the number of responses from around the world," he said.

In addition to the Merck-HPN challenge, the organization has also offered prizes for:

  • Care transformation: Judges awarded more than $1.5 million to an innovator who can help healthcare organizations more effectively use big data to drive improvements.

  • Open mHealth: In January 2013  HPN announced a $100,000 mobile application health prize challenge to teams that can create applications using the Open mHealth architecture so that individuals with multiple diseases can manage their care across platforms.

  • Heritage-DREAM Breast Cancer Network Inference Challenge: a competition focused on fostering innovation in breast cancer research, identifying new therapeutic targets and ultimately, help save lives.

For organizations interested in starting competitions in other areas or simply encouraging an atmosphere of innovation, Wagar has two pieces of advice.

First, hire a professional organization that can provide advice on the technical aspects of running a competition to make sure you set the proper criteria and measurement for that criteria. "In the end what you want to occur is new information or a better way of doing things, as opposed to winning a competition without anything new," he said. "There is a whole industry on how to run fair and appropriate competitions."

Second, be open to other approaches and ways of doing things. For example, he said, if you are overwhelmed with pieces of data, asking someone outside your field may help you overcome preconceived notions you may have about giant amounts of data.