AMIAC Keynote Address

Opening Keynote Address:

Advancing Research, Development, Care and Economic Impact through Global Partnerships

American Medical Informatics Association Conference

May 28, 2015, 8:00a.m.

(As Prepared)



Good Morning.  Welcome to Boston.  I want to thank Doug Frisma, Executive Director of AMIA for asking me to speak with you this morning.


I thought I would begin this morning by giving you a little bit of my background.  


I served in the Massachusetts Senate for over two decades, with the last eight years as President of the Massachusetts Senate.   During my tenure in the Senate, I was one of the chief negotiators on the Commonwealth’s Health Care Reform legislation- which as you are all aware was the roadmap used for national health care reform.


While I knew we had put together a groundbreaking piece of legislation that would change the face of health care here in Massachusetts and in the rest of the nation, I recognized that the original bill was just part of the equation.  There were other factors that needed to be addressed if we were to make this new way of delivering heath care a success.   


As Senate President, I authored three additional health care reform bills that worked to address the issues of access, cost containment, retention and quality of care.


Through my work on health care reform and the subsequent legislation, I was asked on several occasions to speak to international audiences on what we had done here in Massachusetts to begin addressing these issues.


The more I travelled and met with counterparts across the globe, the more it became apparent that we all were trying to solve the same problems.


No matter what a health care delivery system looks like – fee for service, managed care, or government funded – everyone is facing the same concerns and obstacles- how to deliver the best, most effective and cost efficient care.  


It became clear that the idea of collaboration really was the key in solving these problems and at the same time carving out a stronger economic engine that would allow innovation to thrive globally.  Why reinvent the wheel when we can create a better wheel together?


At first, people are skeptical of international partnerships.  After all, collaboration is counterintuitive from the traditional way we do business. The natural tendency is to keep our breakthroughs to ourselves. To work on a project or an idea in a vacuum because we have been conditioned to assume that once we pick our heads up and share our work, someone will take it from us.


However there has been a real sea change in that corporate mentality to keep everything in a silo.  Cooperative workspaces, innovation centers and incubators have become more of a rule than an exception –particularly in the health innovation sector.  The idea of being able to feed off of each other’s creativity and energy really has been a driving force in this industry.  


Even for someone who is not in the industry, every time I tour an incubator space the excitement around the innovation is contagious.


It is that spirit and electricity that can and should be harnessed to build upon what really has become a new age of American industry.  Health care innovation, and in particular the development of technologies that truly can improve people’s health and quality of life, has become the new basis for economies across the country and around the globe.   


To give you a couple of examples from right here in Massachusetts in one study, patients living in rural areas with cardiac conditions were given remote monitoring devices to provide daily information to their doctor.  


While people were apprehensive at first, once the trial was concluded, people did not want to return the devices, with many saying they felt comforted by the daily connection to medical professionals.


In a report by the New England Institutes for Health, their analysis of Remote Physiological Monitoring saw a 32 percent reduction in re-hospitalization and a 25 percent cost savings over six months when looking at monitoring of advanced heart failure patients.

Massachusetts, through the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative and the New England Institutes for Health has also explored, with great success, innovative health care delivery systems such as a tele-ICU s where community hospitals are linked with larger teaching hospitals.


In the case of this study, which is from a few years ago, UMass Memorial Hospital was linked with smaller community hospitals.   


As a result of the implementation, where clinicians from the teaching hospital monitored patients at the community hospitals, there was a decrease in the length of stay, and increase in best practices and a net savings of approximately $27 million.


Not only do these technologies improve care, health and wellbeing and quality of life, they decrease the cost of care for treating expensive chronic health conditions.  


They allow doctors to have a more comprehensive picture of a patient’s health, they reduce hospital stays and help keep our ageing population in their homes.


The problem of reaching rural patients is not unique here and our potential solutions are the same that other countries like the UK and Ireland are looking to implement.


We have amazing health care innovation going on here in Massachusetts and across this country, so what is the benefit to international collaboration?   I believe it brings research, innovation and implementation to a whole other level.


We live in a world where borders are more of a state of mind than an actual barrier, and the things we do–the advances we make—have an effect that reaches across oceans.   


The perfect example for this is the Ebola virus, which, in a blink of an eye became a world health crisis and researchers around the globe were working on treatments and cures because we all recognized very quickly that a breakout of a disease travels as fast as an airplane can carry it.


Coming together and working with the best information researchers were able to treat and tamp down the outbreak.  But what would have happened if the United States did the research and had the treatment, but did not share their findings with the world?


In terms of R&D, the opportunity for researchers to work together and build upon each others strengths, opens opportunities for new data and frankly produces a better result.  


For example, every citizen of Finland’s DNA is in a national bank.  For researchers, access to that DNA bank for research can better help identify genetic disorders and treatments for them.


For governments, cooperation and collaboration is also critical.


In 2010, Former Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Seblius and Vice-President of the European Commission Neelie Kroes (CROWS) signed an MOU on interoperability of EMRs and workforce training for health IT workforce.  


This agreement showed the commitment of the US and EU to find pathways to work together for the benefit of all citizens and encourage business development in the health IT sector on both sides of the Atlantic.


These are steps in the right direction, but in order to make international partnerships truly successful, these collaborations must be at the speed of research and innovation, and not at the more glacial pace of government.


What do I mean by that? We have to put action behind the ceremonial signings and grip and grin photos.   


The right people need to be in the room together to find the connection and create the partnership.   


On a trade mission I lead to Finland during my tenure as Senate President, the Vice Chancellor for Economic Development at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth was listening to a presentation by researchers in Tampre on their human spare parts project, or what we would call regenerative medicine.  He knew they had a researcher back in Massachusetts working on biomaterial scaffolding for stem cells. In a matter of a 30 minute train ride from Tampre to Helsiki, the researchers were connected along with University of Ulster Jordanstown and a partnership was formed.


It can be that easy.  And it is these kinds of partnerships that begin the lasting relationships that not only lead to breakthroughs in terms of medical advancement, but can also lead to economic ties that benefit all of those participating.


Finding these connections however is critical.


The University of Massachusetts Lowell seized such an opportunity to help the entreprenures in their medical device incubator by opening M2D2 Northwest, which is space within the Letterkenny Institute of Technology in Donegal Ireland and at research space in Derry Northern Ireland.  Now the companies incubating in the Lowell facility have a soft landing in Europe to continue their development and testing, and companies in the European facilities have a landing space in the U.S. to break into our market.   


Instead of trying to navigate unfamiliar waters, these entreprenures have a support system and space on both sides of the Atlantic.   


Providing this infrastructure allows for the more rapid development of their technology, exposure to additional funding sources and helps to more quickly bring their innovations to market not just here in Massachusetts but on a more global scale.


Seeking out these collaborations and embracing the mindset that opening ourselves to international opportunities and partnerships does not make us vulnerable, but in fact raises our profile and in turn create better business opportunities as well as a more diverse and stronger economic base.


That change in mindset is the first step in creating an environment that allows our businesses to expand their reach as well as tap into research and development and more importantly additional foreign funding sources.


With technology virtually erasing our borders, it is easier for business to take advantage of these opportunities, but doing so takes far more than a few clicks on the computer and a Skype conference.


No matter how connected we feel with technology, the key is developing personal, face-to-face relationships because it is those connections that make the difference.


There is no question that email is a quick form of communication and Skype or FaceTime are critical advances in communication.  But, nothing beats face-to-face meetings.   This allows you to build a relationship — a trust with your counterparts.


Think about your most productive relationships, their strength is built on a handshake and conversations, not over an email or a text.


I have also found that having those face-to-face conversations are like throwing a pebble into the water… they bring out concentric circles of opportunities — more thoughts, ideas and additional contacts for collaboration.


Many of the successes I have seen are not only with the principles in the meetings, but who those people connect you with and what possibility those connections bring.


And while Western Europe is a natural place for us to look for economic development opportunities, they are just the tip of the iceberg.  


There is a vacuum in Eastern Europe for economic development opportunities and collaboration.  Companies in Eastern Europe are looking for a bridge to break into to the U.S. to license their product.  


The Scandinavian countries along with Estonia have put significant funding into bolstering health care technology.   Additionally, wealthy nations like United Arab Emirates and China are also becoming more open to collaboration outside of their borders.


Really anywhere you turn there is an opportunity to expand your reach.


When I was serving as Senate President, I saw this opportunity for Massachusetts’ researchers and entreprenures to find these global connections, and to attract overseas innovators to the U.S. through Massachusetts.  I took on this role as part of the Senate President’s office, but the more we were able to do, the more I recognized there is much more opportunity out there to make these international connections.


In January of this year, when I decided to step away from the Massachusetts Senate, I knew that there was an opportunity to help researchers, entrepreurs, and public and private entities break through their walls to work with each other and with international partners.


So I founded an educational non-profit, MassIgnite.  MassIgnite provides a local platform for international partnerships, research and development, and market expansion for private companies, universities, and incubators.   


By developing these partnerships and expanding the reach of what is happening here in Massachusetts’, thereby providing a more robust economic engine that continues to fuel the cutting-edge technology and innovation.  


One of the questions I have been consistently asked is Don’t you think that by opening up these international avenues, Massachusetts, in my case, will end up on the losing end of the bargain with companies choosing to move overseas?


My answer is no, but by not providing these kinds of opportunities both our economy and the wellbeing of the people who live here will. Let me explain this a little further.


I believe that providing these types of opportunities are really investments in the future of the Commonwealth.  We are competing just like every other state for our piece of the economic pie.   We, unlike most states, are fortunate here to be surrounded by world-renowned research institutions, hospitals and an educated workforce.  We have also invested in and encouraged the growth of the life science, biotech, and health care technology sectors with great success.


But we are a small state and in order to sustain an economic edge, we have to put ourselves on the world stage.  


Yes, there will be some companies who chose to move from here to Europe or other parts of the world, but I believe for every company that makes that decision, there is another company formed out of these kinds of collaborations that will make Massachusetts its home base.


There is not question that opening that door is a calculated risk, but it also has the potential to reap great rewards.  Through those risks we have been able to grow these emerging economic centers, and raise the profile of Massachusetts around the world.


In 2013 in Massachusetts, we saw a 20-year high of 38,580 new businesses, much of which can be contributed to the innovation economy.  We receive the most federal R&D in the nation and we receive the most overall R&D funding per capita.  


Clearly, our efforts to expand our international reach has not hurt our economy, but has helped to encourage entrepreneurship and technological advancement.


It is easy to say that we must find these international collaborations, but if you are an entrepreneur, it is unlikely that you have the money or time to seek out these partnerships.


Bringing business, government and academia together and recognizing that everyone has a part to play in our economic health is the cornerstone to our future economic growth.  


Without collaboration and a willingness from all the players at the table, our ability to expand our economic reach is impeded.


We have seen the success of sectors like the Massachusetts life science industry when all of the players are on the same page.  We need to replicate that success on some scale in the health technology sector.


By making investments in those industries, our economic strength and our ability to compete in the global economy will rise exponentially.


Additionally, we have to make people aware, at home and abroad what our businesses and innovators have to offer.   If people don’t know what innovation is happening, they can’t invest in it.  


Both on the national and state level, we have seen more of a focus and commitment on the innovation economy and our international cooperation efforts.  And while state and federal government agencies can be a resource, the bureaucracy can be difficult to navigate and their bandwidth is stretched to capacity with shrinking budgets and staff.     


That is where organizations like MassIgnite and AMIA’s Global Health Informatics Partnership can be valuable resources in those efforts.  


In MassIgnite’s case, we are looking for avenues to connect researchers, innovators and entreprenures both on a case-by-case basis, and larger partnerships that link our incubator spaces with those overseas.   These efforts can provide a pipeline through which ideas and product development can flow.


We also work to highlight what we have to offer here by assisting in trade missions coming to Massachusetts to ensure the right people meet, and seizing opportunities like hosting the EU-US E-Health Marketplace and Conference here in Boston for the past three years.  


The conference has given our federal government and the EU a platform to discuss their progress on the interoperability MOU, and has given Massachusetts the opportunity to highlight our innovation industry to a national and international audience. Over the life of the conference, we have welcomed delegations that have included representatives from government, research and business of over a dozen countries and over half of the states.  


As part of that conference, we held several hours each day of meet-ups so participants had the opportunity to have one-on-one conversations. Many of those conversations have facilitated international partnerships and business relationships.


Having the conference over several years had built and strengthened relationships that otherwise may have never happened.


It is these different kinds of avenues, conferences, trade missions, webinars, meetings with international businesses coming to the U.S. that solidify the opportunities for collaboration and advance innovation and economic development.  It is so critical to seize any opportunity to make a connection, because that one connection makes all the difference in the world.


Collaboration between ourselves and across our oceans is the key to success.


We are citizens of the world, and as a global community and economy it is absolutely essential that we work together to provide the best, most cost-effective solutions to improve the well being of our citizens.  By finding these solutions, we not only improve peoples lives, we will strengthen the economy at home and abroad.  


Thank you.


I will be happy to take any questions you may have.

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