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July 19, 2015 | Tom Ballard

TTU’s new Center serves as incubator for new healthcare companies

TTU Center for Health InformaticsBy Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.

How many times have you thought, “If I could just get this person to come visit, I could convince him or her to join us”?

I’m not sure if that was a strategy adopted by Tennessee Technological University’s (TTU) Bharat Soni, but it clearly was a differentiator for Thad Perry.

Soni is TTU’s Vice President for Research and Economic Development. At the time he invited Perry to give a talk on the Cookeville campus, the latter was a national healthcare consultant completing work with TrestleTree, a health transformation organization based in Fayetteville, AR.

“Bharat asked me to present to the university administration an overview of healthcare informatics, describing what it is and where the industry is going” Perry says. There was a natural alignment in thinking and vision between the serial entrepreneur (Perry) and the soft-spoken, but driven Chief Research Officer (Soni).

Today, Perry is Director of TTU’s Center for Healthcare Informatics, a position he assumed in December 2013. He brings his professional training as a psychologist and researcher, a track record of starting six healthcare companies, and extensive experience in healthcare to his latest challenge.

The engaging Center Director is eloquent in his description of the challenges facing health plans, hospitals, and provider groups today as they more efficiently manage their patient populations. In the end, it’s all about improving the quality of delivery while reducing costs.

“We use the Center as a small business incubator for healthcare companies,” Perry explains, adding that the first start-up is a firm named Cumberland Health Analytics, LLC. It was formed just four months after Perry arrived at TTU.

With funding from an Indianapolis-based angel investor, Cumberland has developed an analytics product marketed as “InformedCare Suite.”

“We have a full suite of products and three clients already,” Perry explains. The offerings are business intelligence solutions focused on the efficiency, effectiveness and quality of care.

As the head of a university-based, self-supporting program, Perry has to be cognizant of the revenue side, but there is also the important service role that Soni and Phil Oldham, TTU’s President, have separately told us is an integral part of their vision for the university.

“One of the most exciting things we are doing is to establish a Health Information Exchange (HIE) in our 14-county area,” Perry says. The initiative involves creating a new non-profit organization at the university named the Upper Cumberland Community Health Information Exchange.

In many respects, TTU is paving uncharted waters in this undertaking. Few universities play a central role in operating an HIE, and those that do usually have an affiliated medical school, something that TTU lacks.

“If we can get that (the HIE) going, it will be truly unique and transformative,” Perry says.

Prior to joining TTU, the serial entrepreneur had a variety of professional roles including Vice President and General Manager of the Health Plan Segment for Thomson Reuters Healthcare, Director of Healthcare Informatics at CareSource, President of Health Research Insights, Vice President of Healthcare Informatics at Healthways, and Manager of Program Safeguards at Cigna Healthcare.

“This is the best commercial run I have ever had in my life,” Perry says. “I’m thrilled we have made so much progress already.”

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