By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
Ed Simcox was beginning his third day as Acting Chief Technology Officer (CTO) for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) when he keynoted an entrepreneurially-focused event in Nashville on Wednesday.
“Start-up Day Nashville” was the fourth in a series of one-day events that HHS is hosting around the country along with key local organizations. Previous stops included Boston and Chicago, but Nashville was high on the list for obvious reasons.
“It’s the incredible entrepreneurial system you have here, particularly in healthcare,” Simcox told more than 100 attendees. “Your reputation precedes you. The level of collaboration here doesn’t happen everywhere.”
During his presentation, the former executive with a variety of public and private enterprises delivered a simple, but straightforward message: “we want to lower the barriers of entry for entrepreneurs.”
Drawing on his own experience as Director of AT&T’s ForHealth operation, Simcox said that “we found it difficult (to work with HHS), even as big as AT&T was.” The recommendation the telecom giant received was “to go hire a consultant to penetrate FDA (the U.S. Food and Drug Administration).”
The Office of the Chief Technology Officer is focused on leveraging the intersection of data, innovation, and technology.
“Healthcare innovation should not be limited to large incumbents,” Simcox said. “We also want to focus on early stage companies. We started these days to interact with y’all.”
Prior to becoming Acting CTO, Simcox served as Deputy CTO where he and his predecessor (Bruce Greenstein) heard a number of complaints from entrepreneurs and others that he listed as follows:
- The Department’s decision-making processes are too long (e.g., the FDA and drug approvals).
- HHS’ has ambiguous priorities that leave entrepreneurs looking for an answer to the question: “What do you want from us?”
- The Department has byzantine processes that are hidden from those with potential technology solutions.
- It is challenging to identify the right contacts in HHS.
“We want to open the doors to the start-up and entrepreneurial community,” Simcox said, and that is a big, big opportunity for any healthcare-focused enterprise when you consider that four agencies under the HHS umbrella are each bigger than any other federal agency. In addition to FDA, they are the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, National Institutes of Health, and Centers for Disease Control.
Simcox cited three examples of areas where innovative solutions are needed. One is kidney dialysis which consumes a staggering one percent of the federal budget. “That’s a pressing problem for us,” Simcox said, adding that HHS has launched the KidneyX Innovation Accelerator as a way to help derisk new ideas in treatment.
A second initiative is something called Blue Button 2.0 that gives app developers access to live patient data. “Our goal is to get your app reviewed and approved in two weeks which is unheard of,” Simcox told interested entrepreneurs.
The third focus area is addressing the opioid crisis. HHS sponsored an “Opioid Symposium & Code-a-Thon” last December. “Our goal is data-driven actionable solutions,” Simcox explained.
Wednesday’s event was hosted by the Nashville Health Care Council, Center for Medical Interoperability, Life Science Tennessee, Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, Nashville Entrepreneur Center, Nashville Technology Council, and Tennessee Chapter of HiMSS.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: The National Institutes of Health on Monday announced a sweeping initiative to revamp the way it manages data in an effort to foster the adoption of artificial intelligence, supercomputing and other technologies poised to transform medical research. Click here to read more about that change.)