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CareFirst and LifeBridge team up on startup competition, other efforts

Trenor Williams, CEO of Socially Determined, which won the 2019 LifeBridge Health and CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield (CareFirst) Innovation Challenge. (CareFirst photo)

Trenor Williams, CEO of Socially Determined, which won the 2019 LifeBridge Health and CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield (CareFirst) Innovation Challenge. (CareFirst photo)

CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield and LifeBridge Health hope that combining to fund innovative health startups can suggest ways to cut costs and find efficiencies across the payer-provider relationship.

The effort started Wednesday morning with a pitch competition where the insurer and the hospital also announced plans for an innovation center set to open late this year as well as plans to invest up to $5 million in seed-stage startups.

“I think we all recognize, both payers and providers, that if we’re doing the same thing, we’re sitting in our silos in the next three or four years, we’ll fail to be the competitive businesses in our markets that we are,” said Michael Batista, a director of CareFirst’s Healthworx initiative. “We hope it’s more than just a presentation. We hope there’s actual actions that we can start to point to coming from this.”

Both companies have already have some programs aimed at developing innovation. CareFirst’s Healthworx program focuses on working with innovative companies in health care, though most of its early efforts have been with larger diagnostic companies. LifeBridge has its BioIncubator for emerging biohealth companies.

The combined efforts of Maryland’s largest insurer and one of its larger health systems began Wednesday with a startup pitch competition featuring six companies from across the state.

Among more than 100 applicants, these were the companies organizers thought could find ways to improve savings and efficiency for both payers and providers, or “payviders” as Dr. Daniel Durand, LifeBridge Health’s chief innovation officer, coined it.

The competing companies included:

  • Kermit, a Lutherville company that uses analytics to help hospitals better pay for tools and implants used during surgery;
  • Rubitection, a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, company developing a device that can help detect bedsores early;
  • Pilleve, a Washington company with a device that lets providers remotely track the opioid usage of chronic pain patients;
  • Nest Collaborative, a New York-area company that provides a telehealth solution for breastfeeding mothers;
  • Socially Determined, a Washington analytics platform built around the social determinants of health; and
  • Docket, a New York company working to improve patient and provider access to immunization records.

The judges chose Socially Determined as their winner because of how well it fit the ideas of the LifeBridge and CareFirst collaboration, said Brian Pieninck, CareFirst’s president and CEO, who served as a judge.

“I would say part of what we came back to in the decision framework and the conversation that we had, was the initial premise, which is the idea that how can we come together not just individually but collectively to effect some greater change,” he said. “What we are talking about here is some disruptive transformation and not incremental shifts in the market.”

But the $50,000 prize came with a catch: The company has to use the prize money on efforts in Baltimore to improve the social determinants, like food insecurity, that form the base of many of the city’s health care issues.

In addition to the competition, CareFirst and LifeBridge announced the investment of up to $5 million in seed-stage health care technology and digital health companies.

The two also announced a new innovation center to house some digital health startups. The center will be in Baltimore with a preference for Baltimore and Maryland companies, but it would also be open to companies from all over, Durand said. The center is expected open by the end of the year.

“What we really hope to do is be a catalyst in this region for health care technology, for digital health, and the catalyst of innovation to show that with the expertise of the payer, with the expertise of a leading health system, that we can really accomplish truly transformative things together,” said Ricardo Johnson, a director of Healthworx.

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