Independence Blue Cross, Thomas Jefferson University partner up to transform the system

By Leslie Small

Philadelphia-based health insurer Independence Blue Cross (IBX) started its Center for Healthcare Innovation in 2014 because the company felt the healthcare delivery system needed an overhaul that it could only accomplish with fresh, new ideas.

"We believe that if we want to make a fundamental change to the cost and quality curve in healthcare, and thereby value, that we really need to approach transformation of the delivery system in a fundamental way," Steve Udvarhelyi, M.D., (pictured right) the company's executive vice president of strategy and innovation, told FierceHealthcare in an exclusive interview.

"We think that one of the ways to help catalyze that transformation is through innovation in healthcare."

But like other groups that have tried to disrupt the healthcare status quo, IBX knew it could not do so alone.

Thus, the Center for Healthcare Innovation functions "as a way not just to provide organizational focus internally on driving innovation, but also as a focal point for us to interact with a number of partners," Udvarhelyi says.

For example, three years ago, IBX worked with Penn Medicine and DreamIt Ventures to start a healthcare innovation accelerator called DreamIt Health, which every year identifies about 10 companies in an early stage of development that provide innovative solutions to healthcare problems and connects major brands and investors to these startups.  

IBX has also worked with Penn Medicine on an initiative to increase medication compliance through use of glow-caps that remind seniors when it's time to take their medications. The collaboration benefits payers like IBX "because medication adherence is a major obstacle in the management of chronic diseases," Udvarhelyi says.

Similarly, IBX partnered with NYU Medical Center to use advanced analytics to predict a subset of obese members who are at the highest risk for developing diabetes, then use this information to develop interventions.

But perhaps IBX's most high-profile collaboration is the partnership it announced this spring with Thomas Jefferson University. Through Philadelphia's CEO Council for Growth, the Independence Blue Cross-Jefferson Health Innovation Collaboration will work with other major companies in the region to "improve the quality and value of healthcare," according to an announcement.

"We're making investments in these innovations that we think make sense," Dan Hilferty (pictured left), the CEO of IBX's holding company, Independence Health Group, told FierceHealthPayer in a recent interview. The company hopes the innovations can be both profitable and "that we can use them to build this circle around every member that we serve," he added.   

To start to chip away at such lofty goals, Udvarhelyi says, IBX and Jefferson plan to take the following initial steps:

  • Create formal infrastructure for entrepreneurs-in-residence to help the clinical community at Jefferson systematically identify new ideas and solutions and then bring them "from thought to reality."
  • Jointly sponsor some venues and forums to accelerate new ideas, including the Health innovation Hack-a-thon, which will focus people on "coming up with new solutions to very specific problems in healthcare."
  • Elevate the visibility of these activities both regionally and in the respective communities IBX and Jefferson serve.

The bottom line is that by working with providers such as Jefferson, IBX gets closer to its goal of improving the health of its members than it would on its own, Udvarhelyi added.

"We think there's a bridging strategy here where the insurer can play a role with the member and where the doctor can play a role and where we can work together, synergistically, to help this member," he says.

Independence Blue Cross, Thomas Jefferson University partner up to transform the system