Partners Announces Five-Year Digital Health Effort

Partners HealthCare has announced the start of a five-year digital health initiative, part of a broader set of steps it will take as part of its system-wide strategic plans. The digital health effort comes as the organization prepares to rebrand itself as Mass General Brigham, a name that reflects the renowned hospitals (Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women’s) which founded the system in 1994.

It would’ve been fun to learn more about what the Boston-area giant is planning, but in the release at least, we’re only getting hints of what’s come. They’re tantalizing, though.

According to its announcement, Partners will build on its history in diagnostics, therapeutics, devices and data analytics for use in improving patient care. Its initial self-service programs will include online appointment scheduling, 24/7 video and text-enabled virtual care, online access to medical records, cost estimates for procedures and diagnostic imaging, aggregation of medical records from outside Partners with its existing medical records, wait times for all Partners EDs and urgent care centers and customized patient communication options.

The digital health effort will also incubate programs under development within the system with the goal of expanding those that are being adopted by providers and having an impact on patients. The system will offer additional resources to these projects which will allow participants to test their inventions and as appropriate, scale them up broadly across the health system or even beyond.

Another digital initiative involves increasing the reach and frequency of interactions with patients who have chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension, using what it calls “novel” technologies. It doesn’t spell out what these are, but I’m looking forward to learning more. From what I’ve read, one of the most effective interactions available for helping chronically ill patients manage their conditions is plain ol’ text messages, but testing new and emerging tech makes sense for Partners if it does for anyone, given the extent of its R&D capacity.

In addition, Partners will connect data and analytics professionals from all of its hospitals to create an enterprise data ecosystem and establish a unified approach to data management and use, as well as introducing new data and analytics tools. The health system expects hospital bed capacity management, human resources, active asset management, supply chain and revenue cycle operations to be the first areas targeted by its emerging data efforts.

This announcement offers a lot of food for thought. On the one hand, it’s relatively conservative in that Partners isn’t promising to delivery any capabilities that aren’t already fairly well-established and in relatively wide use among its health systems across the U.S.  On the other, though, Partners’ history in technology development has deep roots, including what seem like rich partnerships with vendors across the health IT spectrum and its long-term development of the Center for Connected Health.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is that it may yet engage leading-edge innovations, Partners is holding its cards relatively close to the vest with this announcement, which largely doesn’t try to be buzzword compliant. However, I think it likely that some of what it’s planning will have a huge impact on its operations. (I’m betting that at least some of what comes out of its enterprise data ecosystem will be pretty nifty.)

The bottom line here is that those five years will fly by before Partners accomplishes even a quarter of what it has planned. Let’s see how much digital transformation it can handle!

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.