Three not-for-profit health systems—Intermountain Healthcare, Presbyterian Healthcare Services and SSM Health—on Tuesday launched a company that they say will make it easier for hospitals to quickly deploy vetted digital health tools.
The not-for-profit company, dubbed Graphite Health, will host a marketplace of digital health apps—similar to popular app stores—that the company reviews and certifies. The marketplace, which essentially serves as a central repository of health apps, will use a standard data language, so that developers can create tools they know hospitals will be able to implement, according to the company.
Graphite Health's vision is to support a "plug-and-play" model for digital health, in which hospitals can deploy digital health tools without spending significant time reconfiguring them.
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"The process of bringing in new digital tools (to a health system) is an arduous process," Dr. Ries Robinson, Graphite Health's CEO, told Modern Healthcare. It involves identifying a digital tool—whether one for scheduling, patient care or something else—and then conducting legal, security and other reviews of the technology.
Robinson, who is also chief innovation officer at Presbyterian, said Graphite Health intends to be a "trusted intermediary" that takes on and streamlines some of that work.
While there are a growing number of digital tools available today—digital health companies raked in a record $8.1 billion in venture capital last quarter—it's often difficult for hospitals to adopt them. On average, it can take nearly two years to actually scale a digital tool across an organization, according to a 2017 report from the American Hospital Association and Avia.
Intermountain, Presbyterian and SSM—each of which has an executive that sits on the Graphite Health board—think that they can speed that process by standardizing data and corralling a market of apps that adhere to what Graphite Health is calling a "Digital Hippocratic Oath"—a play on the ethics oath physicians are required to adhere to.
The Digital Hippocratic Oath will include guidelines for how apps in the marketplace are expected to integrate with hospital systems and how they're allowed to use and share data. Graphite Health is still developing the specifics of that ethics framework, which will inform a set of certification criteria.
"Before (an application) can be on the marketplace, it has to be 'Digital Hippocratic Oath'-certified," Robinson said, meaning Graphite Health verifies it follows the guidelines.
Digital health developers will sell software tools on Graphite Health's marketplace, where hospitals and patients will be able to purchase them. Graphite Health will collect a percentage of the earnings that companies make through their products being sold on the marketplace, and those fees will go toward maintaining Graphite Health's operations, according to Robinson.
Graphite Health is in the early stages of developing the platform and marketplace, Robinson said.
"We have line of sight into what we want to do—what are the core elements of the platform," he said. But the company hasn't yet "broken ground."
In the coming months, Graphite Health plans to add health systems as members, who will commit to using Graphite Health's tools, as well as partnering with technology companies that will help to create the data platform that the marketplace is built on, Robinson said. That platform will act as a utility that standardizes data.
Graphite Health is modeled after Civica Rx, a company formed by not-for-profit health systems—including Intermountain and SSM—in 2018 to manufacturer generic drugs often used in hospitals. Since its founding, Civica Rx has also launched a subsidiary that works with insurers to lower prescription drug costs.
There are other companies that offer central repositories for health apps. Companies like Epic Systems and Cerner have marketplaces of apps that connect with their electronic health record systems, and Amazon, Google and Microsoft's cloud arms sell their own cloud-based products, as well as services that link up to other third-party apps in the cloud.
The usefulness of Graphite Health may largely depend on how many apps are included in its marketplace and how that stacks up to other repositories.
But unlike competitors, Graphite Health could benefit from its status as a not-for-profit that's lead by health system executives.
"An organization (could say) 'I trust Graphite Health because of Intermountain, SSM and Presbyterian,'" said David Chou, chief information officer at Houston-based Harris Health System, who's not involved with Graphite Health. Its success will also likely rely on how easy it actually is to integrate an app from the marketplace, compared to working directly with the developer.
Chuck Christian, vice president of technology at Franciscan Health in Indiana, said he hopes the company will eventually reveal more technical details on how the platform will standardize data. He previously served as vice president of technology at the Indiana Health Information Exchange, so has seen first-hand how complicated it can be to bring medical data together.
"It's easy to write about (interoperability), but it's hard to do," Christian said. "I do applaud any organizations that are coming together trying to solve common problems ... I'm going to be watching to see how they progress."
Robinson, as CEO, will sit on Graphite Health's board of directors with Dale Maxwell, president and CEO of Albuquerque, New Mexico-based Presbyterian; Dan Liljenquist, senior vice president and chief strategy officer at Salt Lake City-based Intermountain and board chair of Civica Rx; and Carter Dredge, senior vice president and lead futurist at St. Louis-based SSM.
Graphite Health's advisors include Aneesh Chopra, former U.S. chief technology officer under the Obama administration and president of CareJourney, a healthcare analytics company, and Matthew Davie, chief strategy officer at microlending not-for-profit Kiva.