Think Tank – TechSpring Center Brings Silicon Valley Model to Springfield

A child is discharged from the hospital after having surgery, but a few days later his mother fears he has developed an infection. 
She doesn’t want to take him out into the cold, so she uses a phone app to schedule an e-visit with a surgeon at Baystate Medical Center, who is able to talk to her and see her son’s incision site on a computer screen, before he determines what course of action to take.
“It is a convenient and efficient way to deliver and receive healthcare because the family never has to leave their house or spend time in the doctor’s waiting room,” said Joel Vengco, vice president of Information & Technology and chief information officer for Baystate Health.
In another scenario, data from an electronic device that monitors an adult’s blood-sugar level is automatically sent to a physician, who is immediately alerted to any changes that require intervention.
Vengco says digital healthcare products that would allow people to talk to doctors face to face from remote locations or share data electronically are among a bevy of ideas being developed at Baystate Health’s recently opened TechSpring Center in Springfield.
The nonprofit facility, which opened in November at 1350 Main St., was designed to promote collaboration between Baystate Health and companies developing cutting-edge healthcare products. Firms that rent space in TechSpring have access to the hospital’s providers as well as the healthcare data they need for analysis and software development.
“Our medical experts provide feedback on how to improve products,” said Vengco, adding that TechSpring’s interior layout contains a considerable amount of open space, and developers typically work at large tables that make sharing ideas easy.
TechSpring was created with a $5.5 million grant from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, which has been tasked with implementing Gov. Deval Patrick’s 10-year, $1 billion Life Sciences Initiative that supports innovation, research, development, and commercialization in the field.
In addition to functioning as an incubator for leading-edge products that will enhance healthcare, the TechSpring Center is expected to further economic development in Springfield. It has generated tremendous enthusiasm and support from partners that include IBM and Dell, as well as healthcare companies like Premier Inc., Cerner, Mainline Information Systems, and Medecision.
“We have done a lot of outreach, and folks across the region really believe in the idea. We want Springfield to become known as the Silicon Valley of healthcare and invite healthcare technology innovators across the globe to partner with Baystate,” Vengco said. “We want to bring healthcare-innovation companies and vendors here, which will create jobs and improve the economic foundation of the city while impacting people’s lives and their health.”
Keith Parent agreed. “I think TechSpring can become a catalyst for the future of Western Mass. and IT in general,” said the CEO of the Court Square Group, which is the anchor tenant in the new center.
“As new products are developed, other companies will look to the area,” Parent continued, noting that TechSpring is housed in Springfield’s emerging Innovation District, and that Valley Venture Mentors’ facilities  and Tech Foundry, an IT training program for young people, are just a few blocks away.
TechSpring’s managing director, Christian Lagier, told HCN that tech firms in the healthcare business are leaving the Boston area because they can’t find hospitals with which to partner.
“So, we are well underway toward our vision of driving innovation in healthcare,” said Lagier, who came to Western Mass. from Silicon Valley, where he helped many startup companies get off the ground. “We’ve built an amazing space with support from the state that will bridge the intersection between healthcare and technology. We have pulled out all of the stops to bring companies to Springfield and are doing amazing things.”
Endless Possibilities
Vengco told HCN that he came up with the idea for TechSpring several years ago after being named to his current position at Baystate Health.
“I had worked at General Electric as vice president and general manager of their E-Health division. We developed new technology, but didn’t have a hospital where we could test it out,” he explained. “So, I felt there was significant potential to impact the future of healthcare delivery through the combination of care that Baystate delivers, its technological capabilities, and the expertise of its doctors.”
His idea fell in line with the state’s commitment to support the life sciences, and Baystate received the multi-million-dollar grant to establish the new collaborative in May 2013. It will be supported by sponsors and rent paid by members on a month-to-month basis.
“We originally looked at a building near the Baystate Medical Center campus, but decided on downtown instead. It took 16 months before we could open, but a lot of folks in the region really believe in the idea, and the name TechSpring pays homage both to Springfield and to technology,” Vengco said. “We’re very focused on delivering solutions to healthcare as well as fostering economic development. Springfield is on a revival path, and we are happy to be part of it.”
Some of the first organizations to show support for Vengco’s concept were UMass and Valley Venture Mentors’ healthcare arm. “UMass was also seeking a grant from the Life Sciences Institute, which they received, and Valley Venture Mentors has become a wonderful sponsor and been very helpful to us,” said Vengco, adding that their sponsors believe Baystate is a model healthcare system. “If the healthcare solutions developed at TechSpring work well here, they are likely to work at other, similar healthcare institutions across the nation.”
At present, 10 innovative projects are in various stages of development at the center, and Vengco shared information about one of them.
“A company is looking to develop an application using Google Glass that would allow a physician to see the patient’s records on a computer screen in a corner of a pair of glasses they would wear,” he said, noting that many people complain that their physicians spend too much time looking through their charts or at a computer screen instead of interacting with them.
“We’re also studying how we can extend the services offered at Baystate into the hands and homes of patients, and we just launched ‘My Baystate Health,’” he added, referring to the online patient portal www.my.baystatehealth.org that gives individuals access to portions of their medical records after they sign up.
Research and development of new products at TechSpring is enhanced by support from Baystate and its team of experts.
“We’re helping some companies get through the final mile by providing them with a slew of experts, including doctors, nurses, and information-technology engineers. They serve as advisors and co-developers and, at some level, designers,” Vengco said, adding that a number of large technology firms have ideas they plan to continue to incubate at TechSpring.
“This is truly a Silicon Valley model, where a lot of tech startups, entrepreneurs, and vendors are coming together to deliver some of the best solutions to the hardest problems we face in healthcare,” he continued.
“If doctors could conduct e-visits over video, it could reduce visits to Baystate’s emergency room. It was meant to be an acute-care center, but people often use it when they have issues such as a sore throat. But if a new app is created, it would allow them to schedule an appointment, see a doctor online, then pay for the visit with their phone, tablet, or computer, which would be much more convenient than having to drive here and wait in the waiting room. Three hours could be reduced to 15 minutes, and visits could be scheduled at convenient times for the patient.”
Apps could also help physicians confer with peers about patients and eliminate the need for people referred to specialists to travel to locations such as Greenfield to see them.
The 10,000-square-foot TechSpring Center still has plenty of space available for new tenants. “Some companies have offices here, and others have seats,” Vengco said, adding that solo entrepreneurs as well as larger groups are invited to become members.
Moving Forward
Vengco knows that advances in technology will change the way healthcare is delivered in the future. “If we are able to give people the ability to monitor things like their heart rate, glucose levels, and weight through wearable technology, it will impact their health and well-being,” he said.
“TechSpring is really going to make a difference,” he went on. “Baystate is a great organization for companies to partner with, and Springfield has the talent and infrastructure to support the center. I invite folks to call us and suggest ideas that could provide enhanced care through the use of technology.”

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