June 20, 2024 Episode 67

Live from DHIS East: Mass General Brigham CIO, Christopher Coburn

With experience leading teams that have spun-out hundreds of companies from health systems – while also embracing innovation from the outside – this discussion with MGB’s CIO spanned topics for healthcare incumbents driving transformation, and the entrepreneurs looking to break through.

Live from DHIS East: Mass General Brigham CIO, Christopher Coburn

Chris Coburn has been driving health system innovation for decades. He is currently chief innovation officer at Mass General Brigham (MGB), the nation’s largest academic research enterprise with over $16 billion in annual revenue, 1.5 million patient visits and more than $2.4 billion in research expenditures. MGB also has a managed care organization, out-patient facilities and community hospitals. 7,000 of its faculty are appointed at Harvard Medical School.

As head of innovation, Chris leads a team of nearly 150 people tasked with the worldwide commercial application of the unique capabilities and discoveries of Mass General Brigham’s 85,000 employees. His unit’s business development responsibilities include investing, company creation, international consulting, innovation management, industry collaborations, and licensing. Commercialization revenue exceeds $160 million annually and more than 300 companies have been spun-off from Mass General Brigham in the last decade.

Prior to joining Mass General Brigham, Chris was founding director of Cleveland Clinic Innovations and served for 13 years as its executive leader. During his tenure, Cleveland Clinic spun off 57 companies that raised more than $700 million in equity financing. There were none before his arrival.

In this special episode of Healthcare is Hard, recorded live at the Digital Health Innovation Summit (DHIS) in Boston, Keith Figlioli led a keynote discussion with Chris about the current state of healthcare innovation. Some of the topics they discussed include:

  • Embracing innovation from inside and outside of MGB. Chris described how his organization is tasked with supporting innovation that will help achieve strategic objectives, regardless of where it originates. With the realization that most health systems are large organizations not known for their nimbleness, he shared advice for innovators looking to partner with or sell to them about how buying decisions are made.
  • Corporate venture capital in healthcare. With a steady growth in the number of health systems creating their own venture arms over the past several years, Chris shared best practices from being in the space for decades. For example, he talked about balancing the commitment to both strategic and financial goals, and how his organization catalogs the unmet needs of MGB’s leading faculty. For entrepreneurs, he suggests getting to know the growing number of people in corporate venture roles, in addition to health system operators.
  • Getting operators to embrace digital innovation. Fielding a question from the live audience, Chris discussed strategies for getting operators to adapt digital health innovation into established workflows, and how important it is to create a culture around innovation to achieve that goal. On one hand, he talked about how part of his organization’s job is to get doctors to proactively and continuously think about new ways for how they might optimize their work. On the other hand, he talked about listening to unmet needs and addressing them directly as a way to ease adoption from the start.

To hear Chris and Keith discuss these topics and more, listen to this episode of Healthcare is Hard: A Podcast for Insiders.