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ohio leads the way in health IT

Cleveland Clinic
Cleveland Clinic - Submitted

Ohio has reached a critical mass, but the resulting explosion has been far from damaging. The state has mushroomed in the realm of health care information technology, with a fallout of patient-benefiting medical products, new business opportunities and statewide economic growth.

These companies aim to use technology to improve the efficiency, accuracy and quality of care within the industry. They may not deal in wares that directly heal patients, yet company leaders maintain that their innovations in spaces like electronic medical records (EMR) and revenue cycle management are saving health systems money, thereby driving more resources toward patient care.

With the Cleveland Clinic as an anchor, Northeast Ohio is a hotspot for the industry. However, regions throughout the Buckeye state including Akron/Canton, Columbus and Cincinnati are also getting in on the game. hiVelocity spoke with leaders of several companies either with a foothold in the ever-shifting health care IT space, or working hard to get one.

Ohio's record revolution

Medical records can be a powerful thing, believes Stephen McHale, co-founder of  the data technology firm Explorys Inc. The Cleveland Clinic spinoff company was created in 2009 to help the hospital system analyze patient data. Since then, several other major hospital systems including University Hospitals, MetroHealth System and Summa Health System have been using Explorys' software to tap into their enormous databases of patient information.

Speed in consolidating massive amounts of data is the key, says McHale. "One health care system running out of a traditional data warehouse would take over three days to process," he says. "Our first run (with the software) took 48 minutes, and we're trying to get that down to under 20 minutes."

Hospitals, about 120 of them at last count, use the technology to scrutinize their operations and to carry out medical research. Earlier this year, the Explorys system replicated a Norwegian study on heart disease that initially took 14 years to research and report.  

The system today contains about 30 million anonymous patient records on everything from a diabetic's blood sugar to that patient's medication history. "There's nobody in our space that has a platform like ours," says McHale. "We're the only cloud-based system extracting data and making it unified."

Explorys's success in the so-called "Big Data" realm has helped it grow from fewer than 10 employees to 85, which necessitated a move to 20,000 square feet at the old Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) building on Carnegie Avenue.

Fast access to critical data will save health systems money, but Explorys's mission is larger than that, notes McHale.

"We want to improve patient care and outcomes," says the company co-founder. "That's our bottom line."

Ohio State University technology spinoff Health Care Dataworks, Inc. also works in the data realm. OSU developed the software to better analyze the fountains of information from EMR and billing systems, making it easier to identify a pattern of late payments for a certain condition or a doctor who’s been frequently ordering expensive tests. Herb Smaltz, the Columbus-based healthcare analytics company's CEO, started the company with funding and other help from business incubator TechColumbus. He then licensed the data model from OSU and took it private in 2009.

The company's KnowledgeEdge solution made nearly $6 million dollars in revenue this year, up from $750,000 in 2009, says Smaltz. Its latest big sale came in October to OhioHealth Corp., a system of eight hospitals in central Ohio.  The technology is being implemented at seven other health systems from Orlando to Los Angeles.

Leaders at hospitals and health systems across the country are increasingly under pressure to control their operational costs and improve quality, says Smaltz. Having a "data warehouse" measuring a patient's length of stay, for example, can cut down on costly measures like patient re-admission.

"It shows hospitals they should have done better the first time they had a patient," Smaltz says. "Reducing patient stays by even a half-day can save a hospital millions. Our software lets them understand the problem and take action."

Hungry for good health

Proper data may reduce a patient's hospital stay, but if Vivek Narayan has his way, people may have less of a reason to see a doctor in the first place. Narayan is the Cuyahoga Falls-based creator of GorMonjee, a downloadable app that suggests the healthiest available food choices based on your location and dietary preferences.

Users create an avatar called an "iMonjee" and tell the app their nutritional requirements and what they like to eat. The app will "learn" your favorite foods and come up with customized restaurant suggestions and even grocery lists based on the interaction. Don't like cucumbers? Want more calcium in your diet? Let the app know, and it will get you the balanced, tasty diet you crave, Narayan says.

The native of Melbourne, Australia, is currently raising seed capital for a beta version of the app. Narayan, who has a background in medicine, came up with the idea while doing research on community health initiatives at his day job at the Austen Bioinnovation Institute in Akron.  

"I thought, 'How do we prevent people from eating unhealthy food?'" Narayan says. "Why not create a social media aggregator delivering information based on behavior?"

The idea blossomed into GorMonjee, a combination of the English "gourmet" and the French word manger, meaning "to eat."  The Austen center is part owner of the technology, and put $25,000 toward the app's beta. Narayan needs to raise another $25,000 to make the beta a reality, and is set to start a Kickstarter campaign to accomplish that goal.

Measuring food behaviors can have direct impact on the nation's health, Narayan believes. He envisions GorMonjee being used to prevent childhood obesity and other diet-related maladies.

"The app doesn't tell you to stop eating," says Narayan. "But it may tell you that you don't need that burger to go along with that salad."

A future so bright...

The state's health care information sector will continue to grow statewide thanks to a robust medical infrastructure coupled with a demand for innovation within the space, says Chris Coburn, executive director of Cleveland Clinic Innovations (CCI),  responsible for creating companies using the health system's research in medical technology.

"The market is on fire, and Ohio is well-positioned" to take advantage, Coburn says. He compares Cleveland to a city like Nashville, a hotbed for health care IT due to its hospital system and strong academic background. Cincinnati, meanwhile, recently procured $40 million dollars in federal funding to build a health care IT infrastructure. 

CCI's statewide health care IT portfolio has grown 20 percent in the last several years, he adds. State initiatives like the $2.3 billion Third Frontier economic development program should ensure more companies will come up with products that have both a healthcare benefit but also a demonstrable cost-lowering effect. 

"I can't recall a segment that is more vibrant than health care IT is right now," Coburn says. "Ohio is clearly a leader."
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