Center for Healthcare Innovation Unites Research and Care

9 minute read

Imagine a world where groundbreaking medical research doesn’t languish in journals but swiftly transforms into tangible, life-altering care for patients. Picture a place where innovation thrives, not in isolation, but at the intersection of academia and clinical practice. Step into the realm of the Center for Healthcare Innovation (CHI), nestled in the heart of Winston-Salem’s bustling Innovation Quarter (iQ), where the future of healthcare is being redefined. 

“So much medical research ends up in wonderful high-profile medical journals but never makes it to actually helping people,” explains Dr. Jeff Williamson, Director of the Center for Healthcare Innovation; Professor of Internal Medicine and Epidemiology; Chief, Section on Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine, “The Center for Healthcare Innovation was created by Wake Forest School of Medicine to find ways to reduce the time it takes for research discovery to reach the bedside.” 

Can We Be More Agile with the Way We Treat Innovation?

In the heart of Winston-Salem’s thriving Innovation Quarter (iQ) resides a tenant genuinely pushing healthcare innovation’s boundaries. The Center for Healthcare Innovation (CHI) is a pioneering institution transforming medical research for the future of patient care. 

On average, it takes 17 years to move medical discoveries into mainstream patient care. CHI narrows that gap. CHI’s mission is to be the engine that drives ideas and solutions, not requiring the traditional research process into clinical application, adding value for patients.  

Jen McCraw, Director of Strategy & Operations, Center for Healthcare Innovation, explains how the Center stands out in healthcare innovation compared to tech giants like Apple and Google because CHI has quick access to researchers with decades of experience and a deep understanding of healthcare issues.  

“We have people that have really, really deep research expertise in different problems that exist in healthcare. We have this technology team who can develop software and do that very quickly. We have this deep bench of members we can call on when we need expertise. And we have the support of our clinical system to implement and scale very quickly. I feel like we can get ahead of problems and actually make some real difference in our own health system.”

Jen McCraw 

Dr. Eric Kirkendall, Chief Medical Information Officer & Chief Information Officer – Academic Health; Deputy Director, Center for Healthcare Innovation; Director of Digital Health Innovation, highlights the essential role of bridging boundaries within their organization. CHI operates at the intersection of two significant domains: the research/academic realm and the clinical healthcare sector. By seamlessly integrating these two worlds, they strive to enhance healthcare. 

“We are fluent in crossing those chasms and having the tools and the people to do the work to bring our research science into clinical practice and actually change healthcare.”

Dr. Eric Kirkendall 

Navigating the Quadruple Aim in Healthcare: The Center’s Impact and Initiatives

In healthcare’s ever-changing landscape, achieving excellence involves a holistic approach called the Quadruple Aim. This framework goes beyond patient care to also consider the well-being of healthcare providers, patient experiences, population health and cost. 

All CHI projects contribute in some way to the Quadruple Aim: 

  • Improving Provider Well-being: focuses on the well-being of healthcare providers, including physicians, nurses, and other healthcare staff. Burnout and high levels of stress are common in the healthcare industry, and addressing these issues is essential for both the individuals working in healthcare and the overall quality of care provided. 
  • Improving Patient Experience: focuses on enhancing the quality of care and ensuring patients have a positive experience when receiving healthcare services. This involves aspects like improving patient satisfaction, communication, and engagement. 
  • Improving Population Health: emphasizes the importance of improving the health of entire populations, not just individual patients. This includes implementing preventive measures, addressing health disparities, and promoting wellness and disease prevention. 
  • Reducing Costs: Controlling healthcare costs is a critical aspect of the Quadruple Aim. It aims to make healthcare more affordable and sustainable. This involves finding ways to reduce unnecessary healthcare expenditures and promoting cost-effective care delivery models. 

The Center’s Annual Innovation Incubator: Launch 

The Center for Healthcare Innovation orchestrates an annual event called Launch, with a mission to invigorate innovation in healthcare at a grassroots level. They recognize that failing to foster innovation from within could result in the loss of precious opportunities. 

“We want to hear from the people who are living the problem day in and day out,” says Jen McCraw, “How can we tap into the people that have never worked with the Center, maybe people who have never really been given an opportunity to think innovatively, but should? And so we created Launch.” 

It starts with an annual open call for ideas related to a specific healthcare problem. “Our mentoring is really focused on how to help an idea bridge to the actual healthcare system,” says Dr. Williamson, “and how do we mentor people to speak the language of health system leaders and operations leaders so that their idea can gain traction.” 

Launch selects the most promising ideas and supports the innovators throughout the summer, providing resources and expertise to refine their solutions. The program culminates in a pitch competition where participants present their ideas to healthcare experts.  

The excitement at the event is truly palpable. The Center encourages not only the participating teams but also their families to join in on the fun. Amidst the family-friendly atmosphere, there’s a strong sense of purpose. On Saturday, the Center brings in consultants from across the health system to assist the teams in honing their pitches for the grand finale on Sunday, during which they’ll present in front of a panel of judges.  

The winner gets the opportunity to work closely with the Center to develop and implement their project, helping turn innovative ideas into practical healthcare solutions. Jaime Hughes, Jason Fanning, and Amber Brooks, winners of Launch 2022, presented PATINA, a game-changing project set to transform chronic disease management at Atrium Health System. PATINA utilizes remote monitoring, wearables, and digital health programs to provide personalized health interventions. Powered by the Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA) platform from the Center for Healthcare Innovation, it captures real-time data to inform clinical decisions and deliver personalized health support at home. 

The anticipation is electric, and the adrenaline runs high as everyone awaits the announcement of the winners. Even those whose teams didn’t clinch victory in the past attest to the event’s unique charm. It’s not only about the competition; it’s about forging connections with people from different corners of the health system, creating a vibrant network and enjoying a weekend that’s both productive and immensely enjoyable.  

Dr. Williamson suggests that the optimal approach for expanding a health tech startup doesn’t involve immediately diving into a sales pitch. Instead, consider exploring opportunities for collaboration with research academics and enhance the quality of the research concepts.   

The Benefits of Being in the iQ 

CHI benefits from cross-disciplinary interactions, a hallmark of the iQ community. These interactions foster a dynamic and innovative environment that propels the Center’s groundbreaking work forward. 

“Because the CHI is in the Innovation Quarter, we feel that we are part of a community of innovative thinkers,” explains Dr. Williamson, “People have the sense that they are part of a bigger thing.” 

An ecosystem thrives within the Innovation Quarter, where a dynamic and engaged community of individuals is passionately committed to reshaping and enhancing our approaches. This bustling collective is brimming with energy and vitality, dedicated to ushering in positive transformations. By being part of iQ’s diverse community and unique coworking environment, CHI has access to many resources that spark creativity and collaboration. 

“It’s interesting to me the sort of incidental connections that we make that then develop into real collaborations”  

Dr. Williamson

Synergistic Collaboration: The Heart of Innovation 

“Working here in the Innovation Quarter with these other groups of innovators and investors, it becomes a magnet for ideas and capital”

Dr. Williamson

Being part of iQ also means being part of a vibrant community that values innovation and collaboration. This community spirit is evident in CHI’s partnerships with other tenants and stakeholders within iQ. Industry stakeholders are naturally attracted to the Center due to its expansive and diverse patient base. This diversity in patient demographics is pivotal for conducting thorough and inclusive clinical research.  

“Every week, I am meeting new people who are collaborators, potential collaborators, and like-minded people, so we have a much deeper bench and team to work with,” says Dr. Kirkendall. 

These strategic collaborations underscore CHI’s unwavering dedication to advancing healthcare through cooperative initiatives and pioneering partnerships, firmly establishing its leadership position in the field. 

“The prevailing theme of collaboration came through, and I knew that was something that you ‘have to have,’ not ‘nice to have,’ in an innovation center”

Dr. Kirkendall

Illuminating the Future of Healthcare 

The aging population presents significant challenges to healthcare systems worldwide. As people live longer, there is an increasing demand for healthcare services, particularly in areas like disability prevention, long-term care and geriatric medicine. This demographic shift places pressure on healthcare infrastructure, workforce and financing, potentially leading to higher healthcare costs and strained resources. Healthcare systems will need to adapt by investing in preventative care, technology-driven solutions and innovative care models to ensure they can effectively meet the evolving needs of an older population while maintaining quality and affordability. 

“We have a dramatically aging population, and I think the trends are only going to intensify. It magnifies the need for the nation’s innovators to develop more compassionate and humane ways to more efficiently and economically address the care needs of this population” 

Dr. Williamson

A Throughline of Progress

The Center for Healthcare Innovation stands as a beacon of progress, passionately dedicated to bridging the distance between research and the care patients receive. But this story isn’t just about lofty ideals; it’s about real impact. Dr. Williamson, talking about their efforts, says, “The tools for being successful are all around me.” The Center doesn’t just stop at the bedside; it reaches out, touching the lives of healthcare providers, shaping patient experiences, improving population health, and managing costs.

“We do a lot of ground-up, inside-out, disruptive innovation”

Dr. Kirkendall

CHI signifies a journey of advancement, where research becomes a powerful force, redefining healthcare and leaving an enduring impact on patient care.

Winston-Salem is a diverse community of entrepreneurs and small businesses leading healthcare sector innovations. The Innovation Quarter provides resources, mentorships, educational programs and shareable space. If you’re a healthcare start-up or company looking to take the next step in growth, iQ could be your next home.

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