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5 Reasons Why Utah Is a Health IT Hub to Watch


Janae Sharp reports on her state’s health-tech transformation, analyzing new findings at the Silicon Slopes Tech Summit.

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The Silicon Slopes Tech Summit, held last week at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City, has become one of the biggest technology conferences of the year. I was thrilled to attend and catch up with old friends like TV broadcaster Holly Menino and meet new leaders such as Maura Little, executive director of the healthcare innovation hub Cambia Grove. I brought my 2-month-old, and I was pleased to note that there was a nursing lounge, as well as plenty of places to get a drink of water or lemonade and sit down while I was learning about what was new in healthcare technology.

>> READ: Can a Scalable Model for Improving Community Health Emerge from the Desert?

But what exactly brought me to the Silicon Slopes Tech Summit? And why should national health-tech leaders pay attention? This year, I came for the Utah Health Care Innovation Report (PDF) from Cambia Grove. And the insights into Utah’s healthcare innovation potential suggested that the state could become a firecracker in the space.

I met the team at Cambia Grove, based in Seattle, Washington. Their work is the culmination of a project that started a year ago in collaboration with EDCUtah, which drives economic growth in our state, and Clark Cahoon, of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. The Utah innovation landscape has been strong for a long time before the start of the project. For me one of the surprises from the report was that there is a lower rate of children living in poverty. When I’ve done work in census analysis Utah is a fairly young state. Some children that qualify for aid don’t get it. The strong cultural push to be financially responsible and availability of outside support create a unique cultural atmosphere that lends itself to thriftiness and entrepreneurial businesses.

One of the strongest points of Utah is that many people connect here to move work forward. I’ve seen this firsthand, both by meeting with the governor's office and through my service on the board of Utah HIMSS. We want to share the good news about Utah healthcare innovation, and the Cambia Grove report offers both a snapshot of where we are at and an idea of how this can shape the future.

Here are five things you should know about this work and why it is important to healthcare:

1. Innovation is a science. Cambia grove is bringing insights into the complex healthcare economy. They have developed a framework called the 5 Points of Healthcare™: payer, provider, purchaser, patient and policymaker. Cooperative innovation between these groups enables healthcare to move quickly, including in areas that have traditionally been a “pain point” for healthcare companies. Breaking down how healthcare works into its moving parts enables companies to see beyond the pain points and bring together groups with disparate interests. To improve the system, it is necessary to have multiple parties work together.

>> LISTEN: Rural Healthcare’s High-Tech Hope

2. Utah has one of the strongest digital health economies in the United States. The report mentions that “healthcare innovation has employment density of 2.16, demonstrating density of over two times the national average.” This is some of the best news from the document. We have robust employment options and a growing sector for healthcare innovation and technology.

“The best news from the report is that there are incredible companies working to create a better healthcare system. Particularly in Utah, which is by nature an entrepreneurial state, the healthcare innovation sector is a significant contributor to economic growth.” — Maura Little

3. According to Gary Herbert, Utah’s governor, “Utah is uniquely situated to have an impact on the healthcare innovation industry. Our roots date back to the 1800s, when pioneers settled our great state. The state of Utah is known for its happy and industrious, hard-working people.”

There is something about the pioneering spirit of the state that’s yielding a great payoff in digital innovation. Many Utahns embrace an entrepreneurial lifestyle. This fearlessness and willingness to try new things is paying off in economic gains.

4. Venture capital (VC) and other investments closed in Utah indicates a growing investment ecosystem, with healthcare innovation companies seeing a robust sales output, more than 34,000 people directly employed in the healthcare system and a ripple effect that has yielded another 26,000 ancillary jobs. Some of the largest deals in healthcare innovation were:

  • Health Catalyst: $55 million in later-stage VC
  • Owlet Baby Care: $24 million in early-stage VC
  • Artemis Health: $22.7 million in early-stage VC
  • Upwell: $20 million in early-stage VC
  • Collective Medical: $47.5 million in early-stage VC

5. In the last 10 years, venture capital investment in Utah companies has grown by 450 percent, which is nearly double the national growth rate. There is a huge excitement about technology and industry in Utah, and companies are more cooperative about ideas and business than other places that I have visited.

As a working mom in the field of Health IT and the parent of a newborn, I was thrilled to see the work Utah has done in health tech — in particular, developments that will support families.

Overall, I found Silicon Slopes to be both an inspiring and very “user-friendly” conference for working moms. As a member of the Utah HIMSS Board and the health IT community, I feel fortunate to have gotten to know pioneers in this growing economy. I am looking forward to more innovation in Utah, and how health innovation hubs will play a role in supporting the work.

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