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In: Opinions & Features

12.1.16 | Forbes.com

By Steve Brozak

To read the entire article on Forbes.com, please click here.

Today I am at the Forbes Healthcare Summit where Northwell Health and Siemens Healthineers announced a major collaboration to utilize big data in order to arrive at better healthcare outcomes more efficiently.

In an era where a doctor’s office can generate a terabyte of data easily and toasters can speak to refrigerators, we are in an unprecedented age of information and connectivity. But in healthcare a question remains: How do hospitals deal with the data flow and breadth of sophisticated diagnostic devices located throughout their campuses? It’s a question that Northwell and Siemens are working to answer through the collaboration, and it’s one they are aptly suited to answer together. 

Northwell, formerly Northshore-LIJ, is New York’s largest healthcare provider with a network of 21 hospitals and 500 outpatient practices. The system cares for over 1.8 million every year and has 61,000 employees. Suffice it to say it’s a large healthcare system that rivals West Coast juggernaut Kaiser. Siemens Healthcare recently changed its name to Siemens Healthineers to incorporate the idea that the company has been and still remains a pioneer in healthcare. The Northwell/Siemens team-up suits the spirit of the company’s rebranding. That became especially clear as I began speaking to Matthias Platsch, President of Services at Siemens Healthineers at last night’s events.

Matthias made an astute observation about healthcare, remarking during our conversation, “Healthcare is the last industry to be industrialized. It is not a coherent system and lacks standardization.” We’ve made similar observations.  Due to its lumbering size, adherence to antiquated privacy laws, and the general inertia of doctors and administrators, our healthcare system isn’t just a dinosaur – it’s a fossil. Siemens seems to realize this and also knows that there are only so many medical and diagnostic devices it can sell. In order to grow and provide impact that is valued, Siemens understands that it must now offer more comprehensive services around big data that collects and crunches bytes so caregivers can make the best decisions quickly. For years the company has provided hardware. Now it must provide some of the most valuable data analytics engines to tie all the information and data being generated to drive better outcomes.

This isn’t unlike what IBM did when it moved away from computers and hardware with its services and consulting practice, which soon eclipsed hardware sales. Incidentally, Siemens announced a partnership with IBM Watson Health in October 2016 to bolster its data analytics and digital services business. The expectation is that IBM will be able to provide additional computational power to the infrastructure and relationships Siemens has in place. In 2000 we saw a similar play when Philips acquired Agilent, Hewlett Packard’s healthcare spinoff, for $1.7 billion. Agilent provided a network of hospitals with mission-critical software and patient monitoring programs. The acquisition was both synergistic and a method to diversify Philips away from being a pure play device and diagnostic player. The acquisition paid major dividends when capex budgets for large devices became nonexistent in 2007-2010 during the Great Recession.  

In Northwell, Siemens has found the perfect partner to begin activating its vision for a more empowered healthcare system and an expansion of its big data capabilities. Northwell, a healthcare enterprise that has started a new medical school, a new insurance network and has focussed on excelling in technology innovation, stands out amongst its peers as an organization that seems committed to defying expectation. In speaking with Northwell CEO Michael Dowling at the Forbes Healthcare Summit, his focus is to become the ultimate disruptor, stating during our conversation, “We have excelled in our enterprise by breaking the rules.” To that end, Siemens will begin its collaboration with Northwell through a four-year mission supporting Northwell’s Imaging Clinical Effectiveness and Outcomes Research (iCEOR) Program.  The two organizations have already piloted another program through the iCEOR in stroke. The stroke study pilot found that utilizing different imaging modalities on patients presenting particular stroke symptoms had much better outcomes overall. This could mean the difference between giving a patient a CT scan versus an MRI and, equally as important, can prove the thesis that integrating data for clinicians is a critical step for healthcare.

Sometimes it seems as if hospital systems are engaged in a perpetual arms race. You see it through billboards and television ads proclaiming what latest multi-million dollar device or medical practice a hospital has acquired. If one has a 1.5 tesla MRI machine, the other has to have a 3 tesla MRI. Don’t worry if you don’t know the difference. The point here should be that after a while you have nowhere else to go. You can only replace so much so often. With every upgrade you have to train staff, disrupt hospital operations and build rooms rated to shield higher intensity machines and hold more weight. There’s always an upgrade, a newer, better device on the horizon, but soon you find yourself maxed out and under-leveraging the additional data being produced by these devices. It’s a good sign that companies like Siemens and Northwell have decided to move the race into a new realm, one that could make a meaningful difference as others race to emulate a new vision for healthcare.