health IT

Interest and investment in the life sciences have exploded in recent months, both locally and nationally. At the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse (PLSG), we of course have been encouraged and invigorated by this development. But one critical area – and one that may not, at first glance, appear as exciting as a new cure for disease or a new method of treatment – deserves the same attention and appreciation. I’m talking about Health IT (HIT).

Think about it. If a new therapy or diagnostic approach can’t be scaled, produced or tracked, then it can’t be successfully commercialized. That’s a key role of HIT, which also represents an attractive growth opportunity in life sciences. Because it is the instrument that measures the performance and potential benefits of so many other aspects of health care innovation, it is the spear driving the success of so much of life sciences and health care in general. With so many advancements being pursued and created locally, HIT can become the tip of that spear for Pittsburgh.

HIT is a lucrative, high-growth sector. Because of combined pressures from consumers, policy makers and the medical community, health care providers are increasingly turning to HIT as a means to simultaneously deliver improved health outcomes, greater efficiencies and lower costs. Those factors alone mean that HIT will have steady if not explosive growth in a business sector that currently represents nearly 18% of the U.S. economy and is getting even larger.

Our region produces a wealth of skilled IT talent from Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pittsburgh, Duquesne University and many more centers of higher learning. Waiting for members of that regularly produced pool of IT experts are the more than 50 HIT companies across the greater Pittsburgh region.

The more young professionals we can retain in this area, as any economic development organization can attest, the better our regional economy performs. Pittsburgh clearly has an attractive marriage of supply and demand in this field.

Last Fall, PLSG and regional partners launched a $1M project to create and expand cluster-focused proof-of-concept and commercialization programs related to HIT, funded in part by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s “Regional Innovation Strategies” program. The project has four objectives:

Define HIT research, development and translation priorities by performing surveys of needs, trends and gaps in delivery.

Educate entrepreneurs about the nuances of HIT business models and assist them in securing early-stage funding for job-creating companies.

Match regionally developed existing HIT solutions to providers and focus entrepreneurs on new opportunities to successfully innovate in the HIT space.

Assist regional colleges, universities and workforce development organizations with attracting and training future HIT practitioners and users in the health care workforce.

All of those objectives leverage HIT as a means to grow jobs, companies and the regional economy.

And let’s not forget about Amazon. The Seattle-based retail giant recently announced a new collaboration with Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan Chase to address health care delivery and cost-efficiency improvements. As a finalist for Amazon’s second corporate headquarters, Pittsburgh has a stake in what this alliance means and how it could be executed.

An article in the Feb. 6, 2018, edition of the Harvard Business Review states, “At its root, health care is a service that needs to be delivered to a customer. For existing health care companies, the operative words in that mandate have been ‘health care’; for Amazon, the operative words likely are ‘service that needs to be delivered to a customer’.” The story describes how Amazon might use HIT to make routine medical transactions seamless and reliable, improve workflow efficiencies, make prescription deliveries fast and easy, and anticipate an individual’s medical needs before they develop into more serious medical conditions.

HIT holds tremendous potential, and this region – through research, innovation and support from PLSG – is poised to fully capitalize on this opportunity. HIT can be the tip of the spear in life sciences growth for Pittsburgh.

By Jim Jordan, President and CEO, Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse