Dartmouth Health clinicians and researchers pitch innovations in healthcare delivery

News release

You’ve probably seen TV’s Shark Tank, where entrepreneurs make quick and slick presentations to attract funding for assuredly “can’t miss” propositions. At first glance, a similar event took place recently at Dartmouth Health’s Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC) for the Susan & Richard Levy Health Care Delivery Incubator. Ten teams of physicians and medical school faculty used three minutes each to pitch potential innovations to compete for a year’s worth of funding to turn their ideas into reality. It was the fifth iteration of Pitch Night for the incubator, a joint initiative of Dartmouth Health and Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine.

But there was a key difference: Instead of certainty, these groups were pitching their curiosity, and they would be judged on the compelling nature of the problem they seek to address. Albert Mulley, Jr., MD, MPP, professor of The Dartmouth Institute of Health Policy and Clinical Practice at Geisel, the incubator’s medical director, explained: “We want them to tell us why they are dissatisfied with the status quo in some part of our healthcare delivery system because it fails to meet patients’ needs, and then be prepared to learn to make it better by testing their hypotheses.”

The proposed solutions don’t involve new technology or new surgical techniques. The incubator’s focus is on the actual delivery of healthcare—the “how” rather than the “what.” For example, Holly Gaspar, M.ED, MPH, coordinator of DHMC’s Community Health Partnerships, made the pitch for a team investigating a connection between food insecurity and pregnancy outcomes. They want to make it easier to identify those patients who are eligible, and enroll them in food-assistance programs like WIC. Julie Balaban, MD, section chief, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Dartmouth Health Children’s and assistant professor of psychiatry at Geisel, and Kay Jankowski, Ph.D., who directs the Dartmouth Trauma Interventions Research Center and psychology services at DHMC, also an assistant professor of psychiatry, are seeking ways to extend mental health services—without hiring more doctors—to serve more youth. Another presenter, Charles Hopley, MD, MPH, a physician in the Nephrology and Hypertension Section and assistant professor of medicine, seeks to instruct and motivate patients with hypertension to monitor their own blood pressure.

Richard Levy, a retired business executive and Dartmouth alum, who along with his wife Susan gifted $5 million to launch the innovation effort, said re-engineering processes produce innovations at lower cost and faster than spiffy new technology. Previous teams funded by the incubator have cut through the hospital’s silos of disciplines and departments to generate significant improvements, said Levy. Nine of the 10 projects funded by the incubator, which launched in 2020, have already produced better care at lower cost, he added. “Incubators like this are the lifeboats of the healthcare system,” he said.

“The investment that Susan and Dick Levy are making in the Health Care Delivery Incubator is a clear demonstration of the impact that philanthropy has on innovation in healthcare,” said Matthew P. Haag, Chief Development Officer at Dartmouth Health. “Further, the Levys’ visionary philanthropy is a clear demonstration of the power of the partnership between DHMC and the Geisel School of Medicine focused on improving the lives of people locally and nationally.”

Evan Cavanaugh, administrative director for the incubator, said the teams receive more than funding. The teams are trained in a design thinking curriculum giving them a protocol for how to approach their problems. Each team must also recruit as key members people who bring different viewpoints to the project – a patient with lived experience, someone from an outside organization with an interest in the issue or the relevant population, and a non-medical staff person from the hospital. The teams also are assigned senior leaders from the sponsoring institutions to serve as advisors and advocates to address obstacles and cut red tape.

Additional pitches focused on how to improve the delivery of obesity care, osteoporosis care, smoking cessation efforts, Parkinson’s care, transgender preventative healthcare, and palliative care for patients with advanced heart failure. The number of teams in contention for funding will be narrowed by October to three or four teams that will formally start in January.

About Dartmouth Health

Dartmouth Health, New Hampshire's only academic health system and the state's largest private employer, serves patients across northern New England. Dartmouth Health provides access to more than 2,000 providers in almost every area of medicine, delivering care at its flagship hospital, Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC) in Lebanon, NH, as well as across its wide network of hospitals, clinics and care facilities. DHMC is consistently named the #1 hospital in New Hampshire by U.S. News & World Report, and recognized for high performance in numerous clinical specialties and procedures. Dartmouth Health includes Dartmouth Cancer Center, one of only 56 National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers in the nation, and the only such center in northern New England; Dartmouth Health Children’s, which includes Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, the state’s only children’s hospital, and multiple clinic locations around the region; member hospitals in Lebanon, Keene and New London, NH, and Bennington and Windsor, VT; Visiting Nurse and Hospice for Vermont and New Hampshire; and more than 24 clinics that provide ambulatory services across New Hampshire and Vermont. Through its historical partnership with Dartmouth and the Geisel School of Medicine, Dartmouth Health trains nearly 400 medical residents and fellows annually, and performs cutting-edge research and clinical trials recognized across the globe with Geisel and the White River Junction VA Medical Center in White River Junction, VT. Dartmouth Health and its more than 13,000 employees are deeply committed to serving the healthcare needs of everyone in our communities, and to providing each of our patients with exceptional, personal care.