HealthChangers Podcast: Utah's Thriving Health Care Innovation Economy

August 7, 2019

The health care innovation economy in the state of Utah directly employs over 34,000 people, with a staggering project five-year job growth of 22.2 percent, according to report created by Cambia Grove and EDCUtah.

In this episode, we interviewed two people who are deeply engaged in Utah’s thriving health care sector. We spoke with Maura Little, Executive Director of Cambia Grove, and Chris Klomp, CEO of Utah-based Collective Medical Technologies. The discussion includes:

  • What makes Utah a great place for a health care startup
  • Surprising reactions to the health care innovation economy report
  • Why health—not necessarily health care—is so personal

Interested in learning more? Read Cambia Grove’s Utah Health Care Innovation Landscape report or visit Collective Medical Technologies’ website to learn more about their work.

You can listen to this episode with the player below, on iTunes or on Stitcher, or read the full transcript below.

A Phenomonal Health Care Landscape

Rachel Peters (RP): Welcome the HealthChangers Podcast, presented by Cambia Health Solutions, where we share real stories of health care transformation, from those experiencing it and those helping to make health care more personalized. I'm your host, Rachel.

In this episode, we're going to talk about health care innovation in Utah. A recent report from Cambia Grove found that the health care innovation economy in Utah is booming. We'll discuss what's made Utah so successful for both entrepreneurs and traditional health care systems in growing this economy, as well as opportunities to improve collaboration. Our guests are Maura Little, Executive Director of Cambia Grove, and Chris Klomp, CEO of Utah startup Collective Medical Technologies, who will share on the ground perspectives.

Maura, Chris, thanks so much for joining me today. Let's just go ahead and dive in. Chris, what's your perspective on the health care innovation landscape in Utah from your entrepreneur perspective?

“We're finding out that there's this really extraordinary ecosystem of digital health and health innovation companies all across the state.”

Chris Klomp (CK): Yeah, that's an interesting and loaded question. Look, it's a phenomenal landscape and Maura will be able to speak to this more, but obviously we have an extraordinary number of firms focused on life sciences, other health care innovation, digital health IT, all across the state. And yet I think until very recently, nobody actually realized it, or was paying attention to it. And so, it was more of this cottage-industry approach where a handful of us knew one another but didn't actually realize that somebody else just down the street was also working on something similar, or adjacent, or we could support one another.

And so, as we're driving more awareness, we're finding out that there's this really extraordinary ecosystem of digital health and health innovation companies all across the state working on really interesting groundbreaking work that, in many instances, pioneering or leading advances all across the country. And we're just barely finding out about it.

Breaking Down Silos Across the Health Care Continuum

RP: Tell us a little bit more about Collective Medical Technologies. You're the CEO. What problem is your company solving? And what was the inspiration behind that?

CK: At Collective, we're focused on really a couple of problems, or the intersection of a couple of problems. Number one, there are still data silos. One person's health records are not universally accessible across all points of care, across the health care continuum.

Number two, and even select instances in which they are—and there are plenty of examples where this is true—here in Utah, for example, we have the Utah Health Information Network, UHIN, and they're an excellent example of connecting lots of different points of care and sharing information. But the second problem still comes to bear, which is that you have multiple providers who aren't necessarily aware of where their patients are, and which need their help, or are more complex in nature, and with which they should be involved. And they're also not aware of what other providers around them may be doing with their particular patients.

“Here in Utah, for example, we have the Utah Health Information Network, UHIN, and they're an excellent example of connecting lots of different points of care and sharing information.”

And so, this leads to a lack of corroboration, a lack of coordination of effort, which in turn extends to unnecessary cost, extended lengths of stay, unnecessary readmissions, unnecessary ED visits, duplicative work ups, so on and so forth. So, at Collective, we've tackling this by building a really large, real time, data-enabled care collaboration network across the country in which we connect providers of all types, and our objective is to do several things.

Help them understand where their patients are at any given moment.
Understand which of their patients are having an issue and need their help.
Activate or get the right folks engaged. And number four, help each coordinate and have awareness of what the other is doing.

And in that process, we can accomplish our mission, which is to improve health outcomes for the patient.

Connecting the Dots for Complex Care

CK: And we're very focused on individuals with complex needs. So, this isn't your patient that's just going to this primary care provider every year, otherwise healthy, and their primary care provider has a really good perspective of everything going on with them. We're focused on the individual whose needs are not and cannot be met at any single point of care. So, definitionally, we now need coordination by two or more stakeholders. So, for example, and sometimes it's easier to understand an example than just talk about it in the abstract.

“We help untangle that mess. We provide awareness and alignment, and we enable a level of coordination and collaboration across all of these otherwise well intending individuals.”

Take a patient who bounces around across a couple different emergency departments. They have a primary care provider. It's a pediatric patient, and maybe they have pediatric asthma, so they also have a pediatric pulmonologist involved, and because of the complexity, the patient's accountable care organization is also assigned a care manager to help that patient and her parents navigate the health care landscape. So, you have all these great people who are involved, and want to be involved, and want to coordinate, and want to help this patient but they all represent multiple different organizations. In fact, they may and likely have never even met one another, and yet are united in their common stewardship for this patient. And if only could they know when the patient has a need. Say, when she presents to an emergency department at 2:00 in the morning with an exacerbation of her asthma.

The pulmonologist could get involved. The primary care provider could coordinate this. The care manager at the ACO could be aware and ensure that the appropriate resources are being provided to the parents. That's where we come in. We help untangle that mess. We provide awareness and alignment, and we enable a level of coordination and collaboration across all of these otherwise well intending individuals. So, the good people can make the right decision on behalf of the patient, and in the process, we can avoid unnecessary stays, unnecessary work ups, unnecessary expense, and we can improve health outcomes. In that process, we accomplish our vision that no patient ever slips through the cracks.

Why Start a Company in Utah?

RP: Was any of that inspiration specific to Utah? It sounds like you were living there and that maybe Utah has a little bit of a head start on sharing some of those records. Was there something specific about Utah that you chose to base your company there? Or did it kind of happen organically?

“People don't care about health care, but they care about health. And each one of us has a story starting with our own health and then the health of our loved ones, of our friends and family, that make that acutely personal.”

CK: Yeah, so as often is the case, the answer is yes and no. I've got to give a shoutout to our home state of Idaho. There were three of us that grew up together, all became best friends, all roomed together when we went to college at Brigham Young University while they were studying computer science. And the tie to Utah is that obviously we have all been here for undergrad, and it's this really phenomenal place to base the business for a whole bunch of reasons:

  • Low cost of living
  • Extraordinary quality of lifestyle, especially if you love the outdoors
  • Highly educated workforce that also has a strong mission orientation

And of course, health care is appealing to people who care about missions because the purpose is personal, right? People don't care about health care, but they care about health. And each one of us has a story starting with our own health and then the health of our loved ones, of our friends and family, that make that acutely personal.

Creating an Organic Ecosystem for Innovation

CK: So the ability to drive improvement there is real. And I think in Utah in particular, there is that proclivity or sensitivity to that mission. But specific to health care, you also have this really interesting innovation economy in which, one, there's a very strong entrepreneurial spirit in Utah. Again, that applies to lots of businesses, not just health tech or technology, but lots of businesses. But two, you have some really extraordinary health care leaders in the economy.

“Talent begets talent, interest begets interest, and you start to build this ecosystem.”

So obviously the most clear example is the Intermountain Healthcare, which is one of three leading integrated health systems in the country that decades ahead of its time realized that tying together providers of different types, and hospitals, and the health plan, and eventually an accountable care organization all under the same roof, operating seamlessly so that all of the needs of the patient could be met under a single roof with a coordinated set of providers, was rather extraordinary. Over time we would come to call this value-based care.

Others around the country would start to do the same thing. And Kaiser and Geisinger are other great examples, and there are yet others, but what that did was set a high watermark to drive innovation, right? For electronic health records—super advanced in Utah in many ways before anywhere else. The value of digital health and the insights that you could get from digital health data. I think that coupled with the deep work ethic, the focus on mission, the focus on entrepreneurship and then this cultivated environment in which to drive advances in health care, you couple them all together and you start to attract this critical density, or critical mass, of individuals who are generally very focused on the subject. And, of course, then talent begets talent, interest begets interest, and you start to build this ecosystem. It's just that in this case it was perhaps a little less deliberate by design and much more organic in how it all evolved.

Findings from Cambia Grove’s Health Care Innovation Landscape Report

RP: Maura, I know that Cambia Grove has had an increased presence in Utah, both at Silicon Slopes earlier this year and also with a new health care innovation landscape report, featuring the state of Utah. What do you think, just hearing Chris's experience, does that mirror some of what you've found in your experience there and in that report?

“The report found 532 firms in Utah working in health care innovation, with a direct employment of 34,000 people in those jobs.”

Maura Little (ML): Absolutely, and I love what Chris said about people don't care about health care, but they care about health. That is spot on—and spot on from what we've found in our involvement in Utah in Cambia Grove.

The health care innovation landscape report that we released in January found an incredible amount of health care innovation within Utah. It quantified what Chris mentioned and what he was describing as this culture that is really supportive of new ideas, new innovation, and really those conversations which lead to innovation and how those conversations can materialize in new ways of doing things, new process, new technologies, new life science drugs or devices.

What the report found was 532 firms in Utah working in health care innovation, with a direct employment of 34,000 people in those jobs.

RP: Wow.

ML: What was super exciting was the idea of the five-year job growth rate, which was at 22 percent in Utah—which is staggering compared to the rest of the country.

And as Chris mentioned, this history of being excellent in a number of areas—excellent in the data capture and EMRs, in what people are doing on the ground to serve people, families and communities—we have seen, and were so excited to see Utah really come together and be able to put out a ton of these new innovations, that hopefully will help transform the system to be more person-focused and economically sustainable.

The Innovation Economy No One Realized Existed

RP: Chris, you've obviously seen this report. Were any of those numbers surprising to you, being someone in that innovation economy? What was your first reaction seeing that?

“Honestly, we don't even think of ourselves as an innovation economy, we think of it as just…we're running a health tech start-up.”

CK: I think it's crazy. Honestly, we don't even think of ourselves as an innovation economy, we think of it as just…we're running a health tech start-up and we know maybe a couple dozen other companies that are doing the same thing up and down the Wasatch Front. So in between Salt Lake County, Utah County, we can look up and down and say “Oh, we know so-and-so, and that CEO's a buddy, and oh, that's cool.” And so we trade thoughts and ideas but it's this super informal thing.

And then Maura and her team show up and say well, there are north of 500 firms across the state, obviously with a heavy concentration in the Wasatch Front, working on all of these interesting things. It's like okay, we had no idea but how cool is that?

And, so, then the question is obviously what do you do about it? How do you take advantage of it? How do you build a community and help draft off of one another and support one another? Because, turns out, building companies is hard, and doing it alongside supportive friends makes it easier and increases the probability of success. I think the awareness that there can be a growth of EDPC report drives is essential step number one to doing all of that.

RP: Maura, have you heard kind of similar stories from other people? That surprise?

ML: Yes, definitely, and it's not just from the entrepreneurial ecosystem, but it's also from the health care system, where the report really brought to life what was happening outside of the traditional health care system (or the traditional health care sectors). It brought to life this idea that there are a ton of organizations working in this space trying to help make the health care system better.

One person in particular—I won't name names—said "I had no idea this even existed.”

It was an incredible opportunity. This report gave an incredible opportunity for us to shine a light, with the Governor's Office of Economic Development and the Economic Development Corporation of Utah, on what is happening. And be able to, hopefully, in the future help convene and catalyze even more activity in Utah.

And, as Chris mentioned, you know, this is the first step. There are many more steps along in this process. Now that we know what's going on in Utah, now there's this opportunity of bringing people together. We brought people together at Silicon Slopes in January and were able to make a lot of great connections between individuals in the ecosystem. Internally, at Cambia Grove we call this is "engineered serendipity." And what we try to do here is lay the foundation, lay the platform for people to make the connections they need to advance health innovation at large and at scale.

Our next step is to continue that effort in bringing people together, and we're super excited that we just hired a manager for Cambia Grove to be positioned out in Utah, to be able to continue to bring together the community in different forums, programs and initiatives that we run at Cambia Grove, so that we can have a sustained impact.

Using Data to Understand Innovation Impact

RP: There's a lot of opportunity here. What's next? How are we actually going to get there? To get to that next step, to get to that next level of collaboration—what's that going to take?

“You need to understand what problems exist at a very granular level, you need to understand how those problems…are able to integrate into the work flow.”

ML: Before, when we were looking at building just life science ecosystems—you know, drug discovery, devices—it really centered around three pillars: capital, talent and space. It's the idea of you need enough money to get an idea off the ground, you need enough talent to make that idea a reality and then you need to have physical space to be able to house the idea as a platform to jump off.

With the increase of health IT, digital health and innovative services, there's one more pillar in there, and that is data. It's the idea that you need to understand what problems exist at a very granular level, you need to understand how those problems or how those solutions that match the problems, are able to integrate into the work flow. And then you need the data itself. You know, you needed data before, but this data to make sure that you really are having an impact on the health care problem that you are trying to solve.

What we are excited about with the report is that we were able to put both quantitative and qualitative data around the ecosystem at large, so we can understand from a very macro level what the ecosystem is doing in order to support health care innovation.

What's next is something that Chris mentioned: it's around what problems are we going to be trying to solve in Utah to make sure we are advancing solutions that really do have a problem attached to them. A lot of times what we find here is that we find a lot of solutions trying to search for a problem to solve, and we need to reverse that trend.

With Health, It’s Personal

RP: There's high stakes here. This is people's health care experience, their health, even, you know, sometimes lives are at stake. What makes health care and this work personal for each of you? Why are you driven to get up every morning and get to work on this?

“It's a calling. And I don't say that to somehow self-aggrandize, or to artificially lift ourselves up, or to put ourselves on a pedestal. But instead simply say this is personal.”

CK: I mean, so many reasons, and it starts with one's self, right? And my own health. I think we generally seek longevity because there's so much more that we want to do and accomplish, and so much of the world that we want to do, that we seek to explore and understand and experience. And, to the extent that we can improve longevity but also the quality of that experience, of course, from the most self-serving perspective…I think most of us, perhaps not all, but most of us seek that. And then, of course, we seek the same for our friends and our family, so that we can have that common, shared experience together.

You know, it's interesting, when we have new team members join Collective, at the next town hall when our community gathers (we do this every month), we have them share why they joined. And so often they share these very personal, poignant experiences. Not about health care. They don't talk about oh, that time that I was in the emergency department, or that time I was with my urologist. They're talking about health.

For me, it's a mother who passed away at a young age, unnecessarily, and the technology hadn't advanced to a place where that could have been prevented, and therefore instantiated a deep, personal desire to improve.

It was spending a couple of years in a different country that was materially less advanced as a health care industry, and mortality rates not the same as our own, and feeling like I wanted to be able to drive change at a more macro level, or greater improvement for the purposes I already articulated.

And I think that's true for most of the members of my team, and it's true for most of the individuals with whom I come in contact.

I've often thought that bad people don't go into health care. It is a sector that, I think for many, doesn't just represent a profession or occupation, it's a calling. And I don't say that to somehow self-aggrandize, or artificially lift ourselves up, or put ourselves on a pedestal. But instead simply to say this is personal, and people feel the personal nature of that mission and seek to make a difference and I'm one of them.

ML: I agree with Chris. What I would add for me, personally, is the idea that I started working in health care thinking it was for my future self. My future self, and my future family, and knowing that there may be a time in a future when I would hope that someone would have created something to help me or family or a loved one be able to recover from a predicament, and then that future hit when I had kiddos.

My youngest was only two weeks old when he caught a really nasty cold from my older son. And we spent a week in the hospital, making sure that he would survive this cold. You know, your parent instincts kick into overdrive at that time. I don't think I left that hospital room for 5 days. I mean, when we finally got out of there, my legs hurt to walk because it was by my two-week-old son's bedside for trying to make sure that he could breathe. And, so, at that moment you reflect on what is important, and at that moment I was so thankful for the doctors, the nurses, the position I was in to be able to have really great coverage and access, and for all of the technology that went in that had to be created somewhere to make sure that my son was able to get through this time. And now he's a healthy little two-year-old tornado and he's awesome, and so what really drives me is not only for my future-, but current- and past-self, is that thankful nature for everyone who's working to make health and health care better.

RP: Thanks Maura and thanks Chris, both, for joining me here today and really looking forward to what's next in Utah.

ML: Yeah, thank you for having us both, it's incredible what's happening in Utah and Cambia Grove is so looking forward to continuing to support the ecosystem there.

CK: Yeah, thanks so much, Rachel, for having us and, Maura, it was great to visit with you on this topic as well. We're really grateful for the good work that you and Cambia Grove are doing on it.

RP: That was Chris Klomp, CEO of Collective Medical Technologies. We also heard from Maura Little, Executive Director of Cambia Grove. That wraps up this episode of HealthChangers, you can find more information on all of our episodes at CambiaHealth.com. You can also follow us on Twitter @Cambia. Please subscribe to HealthChangers on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher and leave a review. Thanks for listening.