We spoke to the man in charge of innovation at a $29 billion hospital system. He laid out the 4 places he's looking to place his bets.

We spoke to the man in charge of innovation at a $29 billion hospital system. He laid out the 4 places he's looking to place his bets.

Rich Roth Senior Vice President and Chief Strategic Innovation Officer CommonSpirit Health

CommonSpirit Health

Rich Roth, the chief strategic innovation officer at CommonSpirit Health.

  • Rich Roth, the chief strategic innovation officer at CommonSpirit Health, told us the four key themes he's focused on as he seeks out new ideas for the health system.
  • CommonSpirit is a 142-hospital health system that spans the US. It had $29 billion in revenue in its last fiscal year, and posted a loss of $290 million.
  • The themes that Roth is focused on are: the incorporation of social services into healthcare; the merger of care coordination with pharmaceuticals; personalization in primary care; and and the increased use of automation and algorithms to improve how the health system operates.
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SAN FRANCISCO - Rich Roth is the chief strategic innovation officer at CommonSpirit Health.

That means he's in charge of finding and developing new ways to improve the health system, whose 142 hospitals span the US. CommonSpirit was formed last year from the merger of two Catholic hospital systems, Dignity Health and Catholic Health Initiatives.


Together, the systems had about $29 billion in revenue in the 12 months through June 30. They posted a loss of $290 million.

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Before the merger, Roth held a similar role at Dignity Health for about seven years, and he's based in San Francisco. Business Insider spoke with him on the sidelines of the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference last week.


He shared with us the four key themes that he's focused on, which often go beyond the scope of a traditional hospital.

He said these themes may be the focus for the health system's investments or for partnerships, including via joint ventures or other arrangements. He said CommonSpirit may also focus on them as it develops intellectual property internally.

Read more: The 19 billion-dollar startups to watch that are revolutionizing healthcare in 2020


Here's what the four themes are and what Roth told us about each of the them.

Theme 1: Social services in healthcare

Roth said that social services, such as assistance with food and housing, are playing a bigger role in healthcare.

He's not alone, as hospital systems across the country are increasingly focused on what are called the "social determinants of health."


"You can do amazing clinical medical work," he said. "But if you don't pay equal attention to the social side of things, you know, food, housing, legal assistance, whatever it may be, then, you're only really addressing a portion of the issue."

Read more: Investors just made a $35 million bet on a startup that wants to help people find food and housing to keep them healthy

He said his health system is currently investing in housing, and he's also looking to invest in platforms that help connect the health system to social services and community services. That kind of tool will be particularly important, he said, as the health system takes on more financial responsibility for caring for patients who get insurance via Medicare and Medicaid.


Theme 2: Pharma companies and health systems will work together to care for patients

As pharmaceuticals get more expensive, it's not enough to just write a prescription.

Instead, Roth said, health systems and drug companies need to work together to make sure patients are getting the right medicines, as well as complementary care to ensure the treatments have the best chance of working.

"They're really going to need their own set of care pathways and services arms, beyond just the pharmaceutical itself," he said.


Already, specialty pharmacies provide some medical services that help patients who get complex or costly medicines. Roth said he wants to go further with both medical and social services.

He said the system is already working on this for people with some rare diseases and blood disorders, as well as for those with some types of cancer. He also mentioned CAR T-cell therapies, which are a form of cancer treatment that uses the body's own immune system to attack the disease.

Read more: A top investor at Andreessen Horowitz shares why she's betting Big Pharma firms will have to make a big change to how they do business in 2020


Theme 3: Personalization in how you get primary care

On the other end of the spectrum, Roth said he anticipates big changes in how people get primary care.

He thinks startups and health systems will work to customize their primary care offerings to serve different populations of patients.

"Primary care will branch off into a much differentiated set of choice based upon the type of individual that you are and what speaks to you," he said.


He said that's already happening, particularly with companies like ChenMed, Iora Health, and Oak Street Health focusing on older patients in the Medicare program. But he noted that these startups only serve a small fraction of patients, and that there's more opportunity to personalize how people get care.

There are also startups like Tia focused on caring for women. One Medical, a company that offers convenient access to primary care, recently filed to go public. CommonSpirit has partnered with One Medical to open practices in Arizona, and with GoHealth Urgent Care to open clinics.

Read more: Meet the 8 companies changing how doctors get paid and building the future of medicine.


Theme 4: Using automation and algorithms to help hospitals operate more efficiently

The final theme Roth is focused on is the increased use of technology to improve the way hopsitals run.

That includes things like automating repetitive tasks or using tech to simplify them, incorporating algorithms into how doctors care for patients, and better connecting different parts of the healthcare system.

He pointed to several startups the health system is currently working with including Qventus, which uses AI to improve hospital operations, and Notable, which helps collect information from patients digitally, rather than making them fill out lots of paper forms.


He also noted CommonSpirit's work with the startup OODA Health, which is working to improve the communications between hospitals and health insurers, to make it easier for healthcare providers to get paid, while reducing administrative work.

A key problem the system is confronting is incorporating these technologies into the way patients are cared for each day, Roth said.

"There's a bevy of data scientists creating great things and no one's focusing on the last mile of services," he said. "If you don't get the doctor to do something different or the nurse to go do something different, win their hearts and minds, it doesn't matter."


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