Meet Omkar Kulkarni, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles’ Chief Innovation Officer

Kymberlie Mcnicholas · October 23, 2019 · Short URL: https://vator.tv/n/4ef3

Seeking innovative ways to improve access to pediatric care

Children’s Hospital Los Angeles is ranked No. 5 on the U.S. News Best Children’s Honor Roll as a general medical and surgical facility, which last year alone, had more than half a million patient visits, more than 17-thousand surgeries performed, and nearly 400 active clinical trials.

It’s a nonprofit academic hospital with nearly 1,000 medical staff members and more than 6,000 total employees, that provides medical treatment, training, and conducts research.

It’s affiliated with the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine for both training and research. Independently from its USC partnership, the Hospital conducts research at The Saban Research Institute in the areas of developmental neuroscience, diabetes, obesity, and infection therapeutics and prevention.

As Chief Innovation Officer of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, Omkar Kulkarni spends his days meeting with individuals who want to improve care delivery in pediatric medicine. These individuals may be clinicians who take care of patients at the hospital, entrepreneurs who are trying to build solutions for pediatric patients, investors who are passionate about improving the lives of children or any other individual who has an interest in pediatric innovation. 

Interview highlights:

  • The Innovation Studio at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles is designed to bring internal and external communities together to solve complex problems and transform pediatric care.
  • Every new idea brought forth to the Hospital must be evaluated for desirability, viability and feasibility.
  • The Hospital uses the Better, Faster, Cheaper framework to think through implementing ideas that are both proven to be “better” and either “faster” or “cheaper”.
  • Hospital innovators have developed some virtual reality solutions that have improved clinical outcomes.
  • The Hospital is interested in the use of virtual care to improve access for its patients, exploring the use of immersive experiences and gamification to drive improvements to pediatric care, and is interested in the power of artificial intelligence and process automation to improve efficiency. 

KM: What are your biggest pain points right now?

OK: We want to ensure that all children in Los Angeles have access to the pediatric care that they need. Given the high demand and need in our community and the limited healthcare resources in pediatrics, we are always aiming to find innovative ways to improve access to care. Many families in Los Angeles struggle to access the pediatric care they need because they lack sufficient transportation to get to their doctor’s office. Other families are unable to take time off of work to bring their child to see the doctor. At Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, one way we are improving access to care is we are rolling out virtual care services, including telehealth, that enable our doctors to virtually care for patients using video chat. This allows patients to receive high quality care in a convenient, accessible manner.

What is your mission and what are your specific priorities that support that mission as you innovate and even evaluate outside innovations?  

Innovation means implementing new ideas that add value. The Innovation Studio at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles is designed to bring internal and external communities together to incubate and accelerate processes and technologies that can solve complex problems and transform pediatric care. Our focus on care model transformation, idea incubation and technology advancement ensure that we are aligned with achieving our mission.

What is the balance of research that drives innovation internally vs partnerships with outside researchers and innovators? Basically, what types of things do you innovate internally vs buying or partnering? When do you innovate within versus partner and buy product?

Every new idea must be evaluated for desirability, viability and feasibility. If an idea is feasible to implement and desirable amongst users, it still must be financially viable to succeed. We evaluate all costs associated with implementing a new idea, including a comparison of development versus licensing costs. Ultimately, the total benefit of the idea must far outweigh the total cost for it to be a viable solution.

If it’s easier, what technology do you make, which do you buy, and which do you acquire through partnerships?

Our decisions are based on analyzing the capabilities and functionality of existing technology. We first try to make use of our existing technology. If existing technology does not meet a business need, we explore options to either build or buy software that will meet our needs.

If you innovate within, what have been the most notable innovations you are most proud of or the hospital is most proud of in the last few years?

We have developed some virtual reality solutions that, through research, have been demonstrated to improve clinical outcomes. For instance, CHLA’s Pediatric Pain Medicine Clinic has been leading the charge for years, using VR for pain relief in the phlebotomy lab. The use of VR has resulted in quicker blood draws, fewer needle sticks and reduced or eliminated use of sedation or anesthesia.

If you innovate within, what is that lens of innovation that you're really looking through when deciding on what you will move from bench to bedside.

Clinical efficacy and business case validation are both equally important as we decide to pursue new ideas. We use the Better, Faster, Cheaper framework to think through implementing ideas that are both proven to be “better” and either “faster” or “cheaper”.

What are you interested in these days? What key trends do you have your eye on: precision medicine? Blockchain? Virtual care? Others?

We are interested in any solutions that will deliver value to our patients, providers and team members. We are very interested in the use of virtual care to improve access for our patients. We are exploring the use of immersive experiences and gamification to drive improvements to pediatric care. We are interested in the power of artificial intelligence and process automation to improve efficiency. 

What do you think will be the biggest game-changer in healthcare in the next five years – something we will see successfully implemented at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and/or across the U.S.?

I believe the use of bots to automate front end and back end processes will be tremendous in reducing errors, improving efficiency and ideally increasing revenue to healthcare providers. We are starting to see these technologies be used across the country and in five years time, I believe we will start seeing measurable impact to overall efficiency and quality.

In terms of what you look for in a partner, does it matter where a company is at in its lifecycle?

We care about the strength of the team and the strength of the go-to-market strategy. Entrepreneurs at any stage must have a crisp understanding of how they will adopt and retain users.

Another way I can phrase it is, when you assess potential partnerships with entrepreneurs, do you also look at whether the startup has stocked up on venture capital monies, whether they’re bootstrapping, or whether they’re using private funds through Angels or Private Placement (PPM)? Does it make any difference in your confidence in them?

It helps to ensure that the company has stable runway for 18 months, especially because the contracting process and implementation timeline can often take some time. We conduct diligence on the strength of the team and their traction to date to validate the worthwhile partnership. Funding sources vary and are important, but not as important as the strength of the team and go-to-market strategy.

What characteristics define the most successful entrepreneurs or vendors knocking on your door? How do they get your attention?

Professionalism. Maturity. An understanding of how they will change behavior of their users. A pricing approach that is aligned with a reasonable demonstrable ROI. An appreciation for achieving meaningful outcomes that ultimately benefit the patient.
 
What do you wish that entrepreneurs knew before approaching you?
 
Many entrepreneurs fail to understand the competitive landscape in which they sit, and thus pitch products that overlap tremendously with functionality already found in existing infrastructure. Other entrepreneurs come to us without a properly developed business model. Build a strong business model and understand your competition so that you can articulate your differentiating factors.

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