As cases of the novel coronavirus swept across Florida this spring, leaders at a local health system knew they needed to streamline how they monitored employees affected by the disease.
It was a significant undertaking to manually track not only which employees needed to isolate at home after being exposed or experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, but also where the employees were in that process and when they were ready to come back to work, said Gina Mangus, vice president of strategy and business development at Flagler Health+.
“Doing all that manually was very time-intensive,” she said.
Meanwhile, nearby businesses were asking leaders from the St. Augustine, Fla.-based health system for advice on how to keep their own employees safe while re-opening.
Flagler executives realized they could build a COVID-19 back-to-work tool on top of a project they had started working on just about a year ago—a patient-engagement app, dubbed Flagler Health+ Anywhere.
Flagler partnered with digital health company Healthfully for the app. But instead of just becoming a customer of Healthfully, Flagler invested in the company, with an agreement that the organizations would work together to build on an existing patient engagement platform.
More hospitals are opting to co-develop products with technology companies, rather than purchasing them out-of-the-box. While the process can reap significant rewards in the form of more tailored products, it also comes with pitfalls—hospitals need to select the right partner, as well as commit resources, including their own time and money.
Tom Kiesau, leader of the digital transformation unit at the Chartis Group, a healthcare advisory firm, said he’s noticed an uptick in these co-development partnerships in recent years, likely in part because healthcare organizations have felt frustrated by off-the-shelf products’ inability to fit into their workflows as they wanted.
“Health systems have been burned, frankly, in a lot of cases over the last several decades,” Kiesau said. He pointed to software systems—such as electronic health record systems—that may work as stand-alone products but have trouble interoperating with other tools.
By partnering with a technology company, hospitals can “make sure that the software product is actually delivering the solution to the discrete problem that they’re experiencing,” he said.