Joshua Glandorf (left), CIO at UC San Diego Health, and Dr. Christopher Longhurst, Executive Director of UC San Diego Health's Jacobs Center for Health Innovation, are part of a team that is developing the innovation center. 

May 22 2024

Why Healthcare Organizations Are Launching Innovation Centers

Health systems build specialized centers to test and deploy artificial intelligence, virtual reality and other cutting-edge technologies.

UC San Diego Health’s Jacobs Center for Health Innovation (JCHI) has made an immediate impact on patient care. It recently collaborated with leaders across the health organization to deploy an artificial intelligence (AI) sepsis prediction algorithm, helping reduce sepsis deaths by 17 percent in its emergency departments.

The center, which launched in 2021 with seed money from the university, has also deployed an at-home patient monitoring program in which medical teams remotely monitor vital signs and proactively reach out to patients via virtual visits if needed.

Now, the center is building a round-the-clock command center that will allow cross-functional teams at its 364-bed Jacobs Medical Center to coordinate care more effectively and efficiently, says Dr. Christopher Longhurst, executive director of UC San Diego Health’s JCHI.

“Our mission is to take innovations from the university and elsewhere and apply them to patients at scale. We are solving problems with the goal of improving care,” says Longhurst, who also serves as UC San Diego Health’s chief medical and chief digital officer.

Click below to learn how to optimize healthcare’s connection to the hybrid cloud.


An increasing number of healthcare organizations across the U.S. are opening innovation centers or hubs to develop, test and implement emerging technologies and other cutting-edge solutions to improve health quality and patient care, increase staff productivity, optimize business operations, reduce costs, and generate new revenue.

“It gives providers the opportunity to experiment with new technologies and workflows and do it in a fairly controlled environment,” says Lynne Dunbrack, IDC’s group vice president of public sector.

Some innovation centers partner with other healthcare organizations, tech companies and educational institutions to collaborate on projects. Some offer grants to enable staff and researchers to pursue their ideas. These innovation hubs can also serve as incubators, helping staff commercialize products.

LEARN MORE: Why integrating AI with virtual care transforms workflows and care delivery.

“When it comes to the line of business, they’re interested in operational efficiency, cost reduction, competitiveness and strategic differentiation,” says IDC Health Insights Research Director Mutaz Shegewi. “An innovation hub or center can enhance the reputation of a health system, attract top talent and increase market share.”

IT teams play a critical role in the success of innovation centers, from piloting technologies to deploying them, Dunbrack says. Some solutions produce a tremendous amount of data that must be stored and analyzed, so data and application integration is key, she adds.

“Many technology projects falter because organizations don’t consider workflow,” Dunbrack says.

UC San Diego Health Embraces AI

UC San Diego Health’s innovation center takes advantage of a hybrid cloud infrastructure. The center relies primarily on Amazon Web Services for server and storage resources, but it also uses an on-premises enterprise data warehouse, says UC San Diego Health CIO Joshua Glandorf.

Although the provider’s electronic health record is cloud-based, patient EHR data is housed in the on-premises data warehouse, along with data from bedside monitoring systems, he says.

UC San Diego Health plans to eventually migrate the on-premises data to the cloud. But for now, the IT team builds tight integration between its AWS and on-premises workloads so that the innovation center and the entire healthcare organization can seamlessly deliver applications to users, Glandorf says.

GET THE DETAILS: How data analytics can move the needle on post-acute clinical efficiency.

“The cloud with AWS gives us the ability to analyze data quickly and efficiently, test AI models in an efficient manner and create a safe playground or sandbox for our innovators,” he says.

The AI sepsis prediction algorithm is one such application. Staff tested and deployed the AI tool on AWS. Through software integration, the AI algorithm pulls in real-time patient data from the EHR for analysis, including vital signs, lab results, current medications, demographics and medical history, Longhurst says.

If the algorithm deems a patient to be at high risk of developing sepsis, it alerts medical staff through the EHR. The staff then provides the appropriate treatment to prevent an infection, he says.

“It’s not just the algorithm — it’s the data, the hard work of creating the clinical workflow and integrating processes and people to get the outcomes that matter to our patients and the families we serve,” Longhurst says.

Dr. Christopher Longhurst of UC San Diego Health
The resources that the center provides are helping us catalyze and spur innovation throughout the organization.”

Dr. Christopher Longhurst Executive Director, Jacobs Center for Health Innovation, UC San Diego Health

The center is working with hospital staff and university researchers to pursue multiple AI projects. It’s testing generative AI to assist physicians with a first-draft response to patient questions and off-the-shelf software that automatically transcribes patient notes.

The biggest project is the development of the AI-driven Mission Control Center, an all-hours operations center where medical center staff from every department can collaborate, analyze real-time hospital and patient data, and use AI models and predictive analytics to eliminate barriers and provide patients the best, fastest, safest care possible, Glandorf says.

The Mission Control Center will help manage flow across UC San Diego Health’s three hospitals and provide round-the-clock home monitoring when needed.

“With Mission Control, the idea is to have leaders from the transfer center, nursing, emergency department and other departments have conversations in real time to solve transfer issues, bottlenecks or scheduling issues,” he says.

READ MORE: Learn three keys to success with a generative AI platform.

Technology will drive the Mission Control Center. The innovation center will launch an early version in spring 2024, but a state-of-the-art operations hub isn’t expected to open until 2026. Glandorf plans to equip the space with video walls and a mix of desktop and laptop computers.

In the meantime, the innovation center is also building mobile health apps, including an app that serves as a central hub for cancer patients to manage their care and an app to support students’ mental health.

Overall, the Jacobs Center for Health Innovation is making a huge difference, Longhurst says.

“Having this resource lifts the entire UC San Diego Health organization,” he adds. “The resources that the center provides are helping us catalyze and spur innovation throughout the organization.”


The number of health innovation centers in the U.S.

Source: Journal of Medical Internet Research, “Innovation Centers in Health Care Delivery Systems: Structures for Success,” February 2022

Improving Healthcare with the Help of Key Partnerships

In Atlanta, Emory Healthcare launched an innovation hub in 2018 to help solve critical issues facing the industry: improving the patient experience, reducing staff burden and increasing value by providing services at the same or lower cost.

“Healthcare has been one of the slowest industries to integrate advanced technology,” says Chief Strategy Officer Dr. Scott Boden. “Innovation in healthcare has never been more crucial as we overlay worker shortages and burnout on top of ever-growing financial challenges. We must evolve how we go about our daily work in order to have a sustainable healthcare system.”

Emory University’s health system has partnered with healthcare and tech companies to collaborate on projects. It also provides resources for faculty and staff to propose and pursue their own innovative projects to improve care within Emory and nationwide, Boden says.

In 2020, the Emory Healthcare Innovation Hub partnered with Verizon to build a 5G network that provides the fast connectivity the hub needs to explore augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality applications for medical training, telehealth services and robot-assisted surgery.

DISCOVER: How can healthcare balance the reward and risk of AI?

Partner projects include advanced diagnostic imaging, remote patient monitoring and early cancer detection, Boden says. Internal projects include using AI to help screen mammogram readings and using virtual nursing to improve discharge planning and hospice care, he adds.

All of this innovation relies on technology, Boden says. The hub has made major AI and cloud investments along with fast computing and storage improvements to support its efforts. Emory Healthcare uses AWS and Microsoft Azure in the cloud and a combination of Dell, Lenovo and Cisco hardware on premises, he says.

Overall, the innovation hub provides a nurturing environment for Emory Healthcare partners, faculty, staff and students to make improvements in the industry, including the complicated task of integrating new technologies into clinical workflows, he says.

“It is critical to carve out people and budget to focus on innovation,” Boden says. “Otherwise, the daily trials and financial challenges of just keeping the lights on can easily repress innovation.”

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Transforming Healthcare with Innovation Funding

Further up the East Coast, MaineHealth established an innovation division in 2020 to help employees foster novel ideas for improving care and operations.

The MaineHealth Innovation Center provides investment funding, education and connections to experts inside and outside the organization to help innovators accelerate their projects or turn their ideas into products, says MaineHealth Vice President of Innovation Susan Ahern.

So far, the center has funded about 25 care team members’ projects, from a new design for hospital gowns to an AR system to help newborns in distress in rural communities.

“We define innovation as a novel idea that solves an unmet care need. It could be a new product, process or care team model,” Ahern says. “Covering all three makes the innovation even stronger.”

DIVE DEEPER: Remote patient monitoring enhances nurse workflows.

In some cases, innovators use funds to buy technology to solve an issue. In other cases, they rely on the division’s partners for technical expertise.

The University of Southern Maine, for example, serves as the in-house engineering and design team for MaineHealth’s innovators. The university’s Maker Innovation Studio has a broad set of technologies to assist the health system’s entrepreneurs, including 3D printers, high-resolution scanners, Apple Mac computers and software that includes Adobe Creative Cloud and Autodesk software.

In one project, two pediatricians wanted to develop an AR system to teach doctors how to resuscitate newborns. MaineHealth Innovation connected the two physicians to Case Western Reserve University, which has AR software expertise.

Together, they developed an AR system that now allows MaineHealth physicians to learn how to perform neonatal resuscitation with a Microsoft HoloLens mixed-reality headset, Ahern says.

In another project, an internal medicine doctor purchased a specialized, AI-powered retina camera that screens diabetic patients for diabetic retinopathy, which can cause blindness. His rural community faces a shortage of eye specialists, so the technology has enabled more patients to get their eyes screened, Ahern says.

Overall, she has heard positive feedback about the innovation center. Staffers are enthusiastic, and it has boosted morale. “Clinicians tell me they are happy because they can have a larger impact in our community and in the world,” Ahern says.

Photography by Patrick Strattner

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