Talking Health Care Innovation with J. Michael Bennett, M.D.

J. Michael Bennett, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine with Fondren Orthopedic Group, and an advisor to the TMCx accelerator program, sat down with Gwyn Ballentine, digital health innovation lead, to talk about innovation, working with the Texas Medical Center and thoughts on the future.

J. Michael Bennett, M.D.

TMC Innovation: How do you define innovation?
J. Michael Bennett: Health care and medicine is the last industry that has yet to be disrupted. For the most part, health care has been practicing the “don’t rock the boat” mentality which is partly due to the massive regulation and red tape that oftentimes impedes innovation.

Currently, there has been a paradigm shift in that thought process. There has been a demand for change amongst the medical community and the general population. The current advances within technology that has allowed increased connectivity and digital efficiency has helped catapult health care front and center for change. So to answer the question, I see innovation within health care as the rebirth of an industry creating more value for physicians and patients alike by developing novel device and digital products improving the “process” of health care treatment and disease prevention.

This emphasis on health care innovation is long overdue. As a second generation orthopedic surgeon who grew up in Houston, I have seen the Texas Medical Center evolve from the days of DeBakey and Cooley to the current state of affairs with the launching of TMCx and JLABS. The TMC has always been a leader in medical innovation, and there is no reason Houston should not continue to serve as an example in pushing the envelope with the same vigor and ingenuity as our trailblazing predecessors that helped make the TMC what it is today.

“Each company and their story is unique, and through the process of being an advisor, I oftentimes learn a lot about their trials and tribulations in the process.”

There continues to be a insatiable hunger for innovation within the health care sectors; we just need to harness, encourage and foster that interest and desire. Across the board, specialty societies, innovation committees, local accelerators and incubators have realized this untapped potential and have started to implement programs to educate and introduce health care communities and practioners to this opportunity.

Many physicians may have valid ideas and solutions to difficult problems in healthcare but may not know how to implement those ideas into a working product, it is the sole purpose of resources like the TMCx to help guide these healthcare providers through early development, funding, marketing, and then launch.

TMC Innovation: What do you like about working with TMC?
Bennett: The TMCx is an excellent resource that provides incredible opportunity for entrepreneurs, academicians and private practioners alike. Whether it is through networking, feedback, guidance, advising/consulting or education; everyone at the TMCx has one goal and that is to help healthcare entrepreneurs be the best that they can be while at the same time utilizing the vast resources of the Texas Medical Center ecosystem. This symbiotic relationship not only helps these young startup companies gain a stable foothold in the health care marketplace, but it also puts Houston on the map in terms of tech and innovation. This collaborative atmosphere has started to gain traction within the startup community and we are already seeing the results with the number and caliber of companies that are now participating in the TMCx cohort programs.

Personally, I have enjoyed getting to know the individual startups and their personal stories and ideas that has brought them to this point. Each company and their story is unique, and through the process of being an advisor, I oftentimes learn a lot about their trials and tribulations in the process. You essentially become part of their team and take a personal interest in their overall success.

“It is an exciting time to be a physician and experience these innovations first-hand.”

As health care continues to change and adapt, many physicians may feel a sense of loss of control regarding their industry. TMCx provides physicians a “seat at the table” by allowing us to become involved in health care development before it has become general practice, we have an opportunity to help drive innovation that interests us.

TMC Innovation: Why become an investor as well?
Bennett: When I’m passionate about a cause and I come across a company that has a novel solution to a difficult problem with a solid infrastructure and a realistic plan for execution, then I want to put my money where my mouth is and put some “skin in the game.” Taking risks with the company makes you an investor in addition to being an advisor which is a completely different experience than being just an advisor.

TMC Innovation: Where do you see the future of health care going?
Bennett: The future of health care is bright. I have to answer this question from two perspectives: digital health and medical device.

On the digital health front I believe that there will continue to be massive development within the space of artificial intelligence and determining how to integrate these algorithms into everyday clinical practice when it comes to diagnostics and treatment modalities. I also see AI playing a large role in the personal health compliance marketplace as companies like Amazon and Apple continue to utilize AI platforms with the existing chat box technologies such as Siri and Alexa. These home devices will have customized software algorithms helping keep patients compliant with their medications and dietary habits. You will see more of these AI technologies utilized by patients and physicians as there continues to be a push towards personalized medicine.

Novel digital software will also be created and utilized by hospitals, physicians and insurance companies to track medical outcomes. The more practices and institutions that can quantify and validate outcomes of treatment options, the better. This data in combination with evidence based medicine will eventually be used to further validate new and existing treatment methods/diagnostics and potentially be linked to reimbursements and future payment models.

On device side, there will be a strong emphasis in the diagnostics market, health care prevention and compliance and regenerative medicine. Smarter blood diagnostics and the potential of a liquid biopsy for detecting early cancer and neurodegenerative disease is on the near horizon which could have a big impact on implementing earlier treatment options affecting overall morbidity and mortality.

Disease prevention through the use of “smart devices/smart wearables” will help encourage healthy habits and provide realtime bio- data for early intervention and compliance. Regenerative medicine with regards to utilizing biologic scaffolds, 3D printing and cellular differentiation for biologic specificity will allow the development of biologic arthroplasty, organ replication for transplantation, and procedures that can trigger the body’s own healing mechanisms to repair damaged cells or destroy neoplastic ones.

Other areas in device development that I find particularly exciting involves the use of virtual and augmented reality for teaching, preoperative planning, and diagnostics. Full immersion 3D will allow surgeons to better plan a complicated procedure or teach residents new surgical techniques through the surgeon’s viewpoint, or help radiologists diagnose a rare anomaly by allowing them to walk through the body part under examination.

In the end, it is an exciting time to be a physician and experience these innovations first-hand. I encourage all physicians and health care providers that are interested in this space to get involved in the health care startup community like TMCx and become an advisor, mentor or investor in technologies and innovations that solve a difficult problem that you are passionate about.

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