Chicago ARC connects the dots between healthcare innovation and community support | So Good News


A newly launched venture capital partnership in Chicago aims to bring together health systems, corporate partners, innovative startups and community resources to fight health disparities.

Much of the conversation in health care innovation today revolves around new partnerships to address health equity issues. In Chicago, a unique venture capital partnership is building partnerships between health systems and community organizations while addressing gaps in care that contribute to wasteful health care costs.

Chicago ARC (Accelerate, Redesign, Collaborate) launched in June 2022, following a model developed by Israel’s Sheba Medical Center, a world leader in transforming healthcare through innovation. Chicago ARC’s mission is to create programs that connect health systems and the communities they serve and raise barriers to access to health care.

“These challenges are always ongoing,” says Kate Merton, PhD, executive director of the Chicago ARC. “There’s nobody I know who doesn’t want to deal with it. It comes down to the devil in the details … it takes time and effort.”

Chicago ARC’s healthcare partners are the University of Chicago Medical Center (UChicago Medicine) and Sinai Chicago Health System. In June, the two health systems signed memorandums of understanding with the new organization to support innovation that addresses issues such as maternal and child health, chronic disease management, rural and urban health disparities, senior services, home health and behavioral health. agreed. .

Kate Merton, PhD, Executive Director of Chicago ARC. Image by Chicago ARC.

“Chicago’s South Side has experienced declining health care resources for years,” said Kenneth Polonsky, MD, executive vice president for medical affairs and dean of biological sciences at UChicago Medicine, in a news release announcing the collaboration. “Partnering with ARC Chicago has the dual benefit of identifying and integrating global technologies that meet the needs of our patients and healthcare professionals, while also enabling the University of Chicago to bring its scientific and innovative expertise to the local and global community working to address health disparities. .

Armed with a $100 million investment fund, Chicago ARC connects these health systems with local community organizations, venture capital funding, corporate partners and startups that can include affordable housing, food resources, child care, social services, transportation and schools. .

“Our job is to understand what’s holding them back [healthcare executives] awake at night,” says Merton, referring to the focus on the social determinants of health and the barriers to care that prevent individuals and communities from accessing the care they need.

Much of this attention has been focused on the pandemic, which has highlighted the plight of underserved populations and communities, and has focused on digital health and telehealth as tools to address these disparities.

“Covid has spurred innovation,” says Merton. “People are now ready to take that leap and try new things.

Chicago’s ARC may be an excellent example of the innovative healthcare strategies discussed at the recent HLTH 2022 conference in Las Vegas, which includes companies, startups, and ideas not typically associated with healthcare delivery. The conference helped highlight the benefits and challenges of partnerships, as well as the growing idea that innovation requires broadening its horizons and embracing some unconventional concepts to tackle some of health’s most pressing challenges.

These ideas show that health care, especially primary care, is overcrowded. New players like Amazon and Google are entering the market alongside telemedicine companies, payers and retail giants like Walgreens, CVS and Walmart. All offer unique entry points to the health system and individual banks of providers competing with the local health system, clinic or private practice.

Collaborations like Chicago’s ARC allow health systems to stay ahead of these competitors, Merton said.

“There’s no doubt that areas outside of health care will affect health care,” he says. “But it’s so easy to get distracted by a shiny ball.”

According to him, the key to innovation is financial stability. A new program might look good and solve the pain of accessing or delivering care, but it won’t go anywhere if it can’t find the right way to sustain itself and continue to be used. Payers, corporate partners, and even financial institutions play a role here. They can highlight the processes necessary to maintain stability.

Merton noted that payers influence health care innovation and have their own good ideas, especially in health plans that support health and wellness, but they have their own business models.

An important partner, he said, could be the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), which includes a significant percentage of the population that will benefit from the programs and partnerships developed by the Chicago ARC. CMS is conservative in its adoption of innovation, often requiring good research and data to support new technologies like telehealth and digital health for reimbursement consideration, but CMS’ Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation is showing interest in new programs that address health disparities. .

The goal now, Merton says, is to develop a “shopping list” of innovative ideas and then match resources with programs that address those ideas. The more people and organizations at the table, the more opportunities arise.

“Imaginary thinking, done right, really makes a difference,” he says.

Erik Wicklund is the innovation and technology editor for HealthLeaders.


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