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Get a Peek at What's Next in Healthcare Innovation

By Mandy Roth  
   September 20, 2019

Accenture's HealthTech Challenge reveals a transition from consumer solutions to a focus on new business and finance models, plus new approaches to technology.

In a marketplace flooded with startups touting solutions to transform the healthcare industry, how do you vet the best ideas and build a bridge between these companies and the health systems that could benefit from them? Stage a contest.

The four-month judging process for the fourth annual Accenture HealthTech Innovation Challenge is about to begin, with the last of hundreds of entries trickling in, and the final winner disclosed in February. While such challenges are not unusual in the healthcare innovation space, Accenture's program is distinctive because it operates on a national scale, includes health system C-suite executives as judges, and has vetted more than 2,000 entries during the previous three years.

Brian Kalis, managing director of digital health and innovation for Accenture's health business, says this process enables those involved in the contest to identify worthwhile approaches sooner on the innovation curve.

Kalis takes HealthLeaders behind the scenes of this year's contest, revealing an early look at emerging innovation trends, which include solutions that merge social, mobile, analytic, and cloud digital technologies; plus approaches that incorporate newer technologies, such as distributed ledger technology, artificial intelligence, extended reality, and quantum computing. Also noteworthy: new business and payment models, solutions that move care closer to home and AI for back office functions.

This represents a shift from prior years when the challenge attracted more entries focused on consumer-facing solutions, along with some that addressed operational efficiency.

As in year's past, the contest offers an opportunity for startups emerging from health systems to gain national exposure, as well as resulting in direct relationships between contest entrants and the health systems that can use the innovations in their quest to fulfill the Triple Aim.

"The reason we created the challenge is because there are a lot of innovations in the healthcare sector—specifically at the intersection of healthcare and emerging technology—that are driven by large volumes of venture funding," says Kalis. "This becomes a way for us to see innovations emerging in the marketplace, rate those, and match together those emerging companies with healthcare enterprises to try to drive that change. We play a role as a bridge maker to try to bring those two worlds together."

Innovation Trends

Among the trends Kalis has identified:

  • Coalescence of Traditional Digital Technologies: The approach to technology has matured. Rather than devising solutions that focus on a single form of technology, traditional digital technologies—including social, mobile, analytic, and cloud solutions—are being brought together to improve healthcare, says Kalis. "We are seeing a continuing trend of the first wave of digital becoming more common and embedded in everything, including new business models.
  • New Business Models: This year's contestants have delivered a significant number of entries that propose changes to healthcare business models. New approaches include blending improvements in human experience with emerging technology. "Getting to business model innovation [addresses] a big need," he says.
  • Application of New Technologies: "We've been seeing an increase in the next set of emerging technologies which we call DARQ," says Kalis. The acronym stands for Distributed ledger technology (DLT), Artificial intelligence (AI), extended Reality (XR), and Quantum computing. Examples include blockchain to improve the efficiency of payments, plus solutions to connect patient identity across different care settings. Also, extended reality is being employed to provide new forms of therapies and immersive environments, as well as to support medical training and education.
  • Novel Payment Models: Entries proposing changes into the overall financing product are also popular, Kalis says. Examples include on-demand insurance, insurance products that are trying to finance care through the use of freelance workers in smaller businesses, and solutions that improve cost transparency. Entries include a solution that changes care team composition to drive labor productivity savings to meet the needs of underserved populations. Others focus on virtual solutions to provide care for the underinsured or uninsured.
  • Moving Care Closer to Home: There are more entrants offering solutions that move care closer to the home and in the community, says Kalis. "That's extremely important as a majority of the costs of healthcare are associated with labor. Solutions that move [care] closer to home and maintain quality with less reliance on labor have the implications of being able to help us manage some of the cost curve and start to drive change," he says.
  • AI for Back Office Functions: Employing artificial intelligence for back office function is a trend that continues from past years, he says. Companies are focused on approaches that help pay claims more efficiently and effectively, provide support for population health initiatives, enhance the revenue cycle process, and create other administrative efficiencies.

Why Should Healthcare Leaders Be Interested?

While the contest itself serves as a vetting process to distill hundreds of entries into the few most promising solutions, past challenges also have resulted in direct benefits to health systems.

The contest is gaining more entrants from health systems themselves, Kalis says, as these organizations' innovation arms and accelerators encourage their leading startups to enter Accenture's challenge. The companies receive advice from the judges and gain exposure on a national stage, which can accelerate the ability to scale.

"One strong example is NarrativeDX," says Kalis, which was among past years' finalists. The startup came through the Cedars-Sinai Accelerator and became one of Accenture's regional finalists.

In addition, the challenge can lead to direct connections between startups and health systems. Health system judges and Accenture's health system clients have made investments in companies participating in the challenge, or collaborated with them to help refine the solution or gain market traction.

"One example is Geisinger's collaboration with Jvion, which is an analytics company," says Kalis. "Jvion also just announced the collaboration with Novant Health to help with readmission prevention using their artificial intelligence solution to drive better prediction. We continue to see those connections happening and being sparked through the challenge."

Selected finalists will present to a panel of judges at one of two regional events held in Boston on November 7 or in San Francisco on December 5. The final judging event will take place in Houston on February 6, 2020.

Mandy Roth is the innovations editor at HealthLeaders.


Traditional digital technologies—including social, mobile, analytic, and cloud solutions—are being brought together to improve healthcare.

New technologies include blockchain to improve payment efficiency, solutions to connect patient identity across different care settings, and extended reality for clinical and training purposes.

Health system accelerators are encouraging their startups to enter the contest to gain national exposure and help scale their innovations.

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