Foxconn, Advocate Aurora launch data-driven health venture
Foxconn is hoping a data venture with Advocate Aurora Health will help it commercialize a program that company officials claim has already lowered healthcare costs and improved care for some of its 1.2 million employees in Taiwan and China.
The Taiwanese company—the world's largest contract electronics manufacturer—announced a partnership Thursday with the newly formed Advocate Aurora Health to combine its technology products with the health system's population health expertise. The goal is to collect data on employees of Foxconn, which has a burgeoning foothold in Wisconsin, to be used to cut costs and keep them healthier. Once it's shown to work, the partners hope to expand from there, possibly to Advocate Aurora employees and beyond.
"Our goal is to take this relationship and create programs—even create products—that we can take outside of Wisconsin and be able to demonstrate that this partnership is going to help lower healthcare costs and provide access to consumers and help change things that are done now in the healthcare market," said Charlie Alvarez, vice president of North America for Foxconn Health Technology Business Group. He said commercialization is not the initiative's primary focus, but it's an intended outcome.
Foxconn has in recent years sought to drive more revenue through medical devices and other healthcare ventures, especially as competition over iPhone manufacturing heats up. Leonard Wu, the CEO of Foxconn Health Technology Business Group, told the Wall Street Journal in 2015 the company expects its healthcare business, established in 2009, to draw $200 million in revenue by 2020, up from $20 million in 2014.
Foxconn has announced a goal of generating 13,000 jobs in Wisconsin over the next five to 10 years at its forthcoming $10 billion plant in Racine County, offices in Milwaukee and Madison, and a newly announced research facility in Green Bay.
The partners envision expanding Foxconn's "smart city" concept. In this case, technology will collect employees' health, fitness and dietary data at work, home, healthcare clinics and at Advocate Aurora's planned $250 million hospital complex in Mount Pleasant, Wis., near Foxconn's plant. Eventually, even gyms will play along, said Rick Klein, Advocate Aurora's chief business development officer.
"There is a web of other services and entities that can contribute—from health clubs to whatever it happens to be—that will be feeding data and information in so we've got a more holistic view of what that individual is experiencing, providing better care for them," Klein said. "Not episodic care, but longitudinal health and wellness."
Alvarez said Foxconn's health and wellness program has lowered employees' healthcare costs, although he did not provide specific numbers. He said the company also saw a nearly 10% reduction in its employees' cholesterol and their average blood pressure went from 132/81 to 121/76. He did not provide the number of employees included in those metrics.
"We wouldn't be doing this if we weren't convinced that we're going to be able to help improve outcomes and lower healthcare costs," he said.
The partners say they plan to use Foxconn's artificial intelligence technology, a term that's applied broadly but refers to computers performing tasks that would normally require human intelligence. Asked to describe the AI technology that will be involved, Alvarez highlighted the Visi Mobile monitor, a device developed by Sotera Wireless that patients wear on their wrists that continuously monitors vital signs like blood pressure, respiratory rate and skin temperature and wirelessly transmits the data to electronic health records. Foxconn is Sotera's majority shareholder. Using the device, Foxconn has collected 12 million hours of de-identified vital signs data from more than 300,000 patient sessions, data that's useful in making better clinical decisions, Alvarez said.
Using Advocate Aurora's population health management expertise, such data would be used to identify trends and create predictive models that eventually will lead to preventive action, he said.
Aggregating patient data tends to raise questions of patient privacy and HIPAA compliance. In Apple's recent announcement that it will allow third-party apps to access health data stored on its Health app, for example, the company was careful to assure users their data are secure and won't be stored on or travel through Apple servers, which could protect it from HIPAA challenges.
Alvarez said he's not concerned about falling out of HIPAA compliance, as the information gathered through Visi Mobile would be de-identified.
The ability to share patient data across providers is scarce in today's healthcare world, and electronic health records are limited in their ability to ingest patient-generated health data. But Klein said this project will not only aggregate data across medical and fitness providers, but will loop in participants' own wellness data.
"It's this connectivity in a more expansionary way," he said.
For Advocate Aurora, the partnership holds the promise of attracting thousands of new Foxconn employees into its clinics and hospitals. Foxconn employees won't need to be Advocate Aurora patients to participate, but Klein said doing so would allow them to "enjoy the full benefit" of the continuity of care and would drive the most savings to Foxconn.
Artificial intelligence has been widely hyped in news releases and other marketing materials as a way to lower costs and improve quality, but so far there is limited evidence to show that's the case. But Advocate Aurora and Foxconn argue their project is different because it combines AI experts with clinicians and data scientists.
"We have the Foxconn engineers, for example, that are spending time with our clinicians and physicians and service line leaders talking about the application of it," Klein said. "You're really there. You're understating AI and its application, as opposed to a lot of people that theoretically use the term and then it just falls apart."
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