Health TIE Provides a Platform for Changemakers
Launched officially in January 2020 with seed funding from the Anchor Point Foundation and additional funding from the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority and the Mat-Su Health Foundation, Health TIE is an Alaska-based healthcare innovation hub to catalyze solutions through business startups, pilot projects, and bringing changemakers together.
It is important to address Alaska’s high healthcare costs due to the impact they have on Alaska’s economic future. Over the last few decades, economists and consultants have produced a multitude of reports analyzing Alaska’s high healthcare costs, which can be distilled into a simple explanation: Alaska’s large geography and small population make it hard to achieve economies of scale. Comparisons between states show Alaska ranks at the very top for healthcare costs: an average of $9.76 billion annually, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Unfortunately, high healthcare costs have real consequences resulting in missed economic opportunities for Alaskans as well as the overall economy. Concerns about healthcare keep potential entrepreneurs trapped at their day jobs, prevent established businesses from expanding, and discourage startup companies from relocating.
Finding solutions isn’t easy or straightforward. Healthcare is a tangled web of practices, insurance policies, federal and state regulations, and Byzantine administrative practices, all of which can also increase costs and defy easy solutions. Health TIE’s premise is straightforward: support and work with the best healthcare changemakers so Alaskans can benefit from their ingenuity, care, and services while also attracting a pipeline of healthcare innovators so Alaskans can be the first to access new approaches and technical innovations.
Decreasing budgets and workforce challenges have reduced critical services for some of Alaska’s most vulnerable Alaskans. To bring new ideas and continue services, Health TIE focuses on four primary sectors: senior care, behavioral health, substance use disorders, and intellectual and developmental/physical disabilities.
Support for Healthcare Innovators
To help entrepreneurs who are developing healthcare solutions, Health TIE actively contributes to the startup ecosystem. As part of Alaska Startup Week October 1-7, 2023, Health TIE hosted a panel highlighting six local healthcare entrepreneurs. The panelists were Dr. Sandra Heffren with Effective Health Design, Dr. Patrick Dulin with Step Away, Dr. Aderonke Akindipe with Rejuvenate Health and Wellness, and Holly Brooks and Calisa Kastning with Moms Matter Now. Passion and purpose led to the development of each business, and panelists graciously shared their experiences to benefit audience members who may want to follow their pathways but avoid costly assumptions and mistakes. Creating spaces for innovators to cross-network, support one another, and strategically move ideas forward increases their opportunities for success and for Alaskans to eventually benefit.
Along with working with Alaska-based innovators, Health TIE works with startup companies beyond Alaska’s borders through incubators, startup communities, and angel investors. Harnessing founders’ energy and leading-edge expertise introduces new options for care. Outside startups bring high levels of expertise and scalable ideas ready to add creative, positive disruption and quickly widen care access. Working collaboratively with Alaskan partners, the founders are eager to better understand Alaska’s challenging healthcare environment while assisting health and social service providers to re-envision care delivery. Alaska’s distinctiveness—rugged, difficult, and remote—makes the state a valuable testing ground and helps companies leverage Outside interest and investment.
Working with changemakers and startup healthcare companies allows for new solutions that are implemented quickly and bypass long meetings and solutions-by-committee that often grind down attempted changes. New ideas are experimentally introduced, vetted proactively, and quickly discarded if they aren’t working. Through filtering and supporting new healthcare startups, Health TIE introduces new methods and new technologies that have the potential to dramatically increase access to care and pull forward systemic changes.
To illustrate Health TIE’s mission and goal, following is a sample of Health TIE pilot projects.
Building on neuroscience, MapHabit is a technical platform that creates customized visual and audio maps for people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, traumatic brain injuries, and intellectual and developmental disabilities. Overseen by care providers and reducing some of their care burden, MapHabit allows users to independently manage their lives. A collaborative partnership between Daybreak, Inc. and the Alaska Association of Developmental Disabilities, paired with funding from the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, has given twenty Alaskans opportunity to use MapHabit. A post-trial report will inform the collaborative partners of the platform’s success and will also be available to the general public.
Pear Suite is a care navigation platform designed to efficiently connect community health workers to resources for their clients. Social drivers of health—including food access, transportation, housing, and social connections—can significantly affect health outcomes, but connecting clients to resources is often time consuming, confusing, and difficult. Pear Suite is a tech-enabled platform that integrates community resources into an easily accessible, trackable database that increases successful connections and boosts outcomes. Peer leader navigators with the Alaska Literacy Program are currently using Pear Suite to better support sixteen ethnic and refugee communities.
Accessing and successfully completing care are critical for anyone trying to recover from opioid misuse. Transitioning to medication-assisted treatment (MAT) effectively helps patients moving toward recovery, but transition can be quite difficult because calibrating medication doses depends on understanding how individuals’ bodies react to the transition. OpiAID created a wearable device that assesses biometric information and allows patients and their care teams to understand in real time how they are adjusting to medications. This allows for timely adjustments and interventions that move them toward completing their treatments and, ultimately, toward recovery.
With funding from the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, an OpiAID pilot project is under development with the High Utilizer Mat-Su program, funded through the Mat-Su Health Foundation and Dr. Sarah Spencer in Ninilchik, as well as several other Alaska MAT programs.
Although opioids capture headlines, alcohol misuse continues to be an enormous problem for Alaskans and the state economy, costing billions of dollars as shown in the Summary of the Economic Costs of Substance Use Disorders in Alaska 2019 Update report developed by Mckinley Research Group (then-McDowell Group) for the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority. It states that combined estimated direct costs borne by state and local governments, employers, and individuals contributed to alcohol misuse in 2019 was approximately $2.4 billion. For Alaskans who bravely acknowledge they need assistance, accessing care can be time consuming, long, and expensive.
For the past ten years, UAA psychologist Dulin has been working to get a solution into the hands of Alaskans. Through his research, Dulin developed Step Away, a clinically validated alcohol moderation app that helps users reduce or eliminate problem drinking. Step Away has been shown to be as effective as many counseling programs and—because it allows users to personalize their experience by creating customized goals, support systems, and rewards—it helps to empower them and keep them engaged.
Along with connecting Dulin and Step Away to Recover Alaska, a statewide alcohol education and advocacy initiative, Health TIE is working with Dulin to integrate Step Away into established treatment programs. Using Step Away allows increased communication and options that extend beyond the clinical environment and into people’s everyday lives.
Alzheimer’s Resource of Alaska has been using Zinnia TV as part of its education and outreach programs since 2020. Because it is an easy and low-cost solution for people caring for loved ones at home, Zinnia TV is included as a suggested resource in the Alaska Dementia Action Collaborative guide.
As the conditions progress, Alzheimer’s and dementia affect individuals’ abilities to process information and communicate. Caregivers and family members can use the videos to reduce isolation and draw those with Alzheimer’s or dementia into conversation or to soothe or distract someone who may be experiencing a difficult day. Through therapeutic video tools, Zinnia TV supports individuals and their caregivers with programming that engages viewers without being overwhelming. Specially developed videos guide viewers through daily activities like eating, bathing, and dressing. They can also help reconnect to past interests like cars, babies, nature, or pets.
Businesses and entrepreneurs are good at solving hard problems, which is why Health TIE will continue to help build connections between Alaska and the Outside, between innovators and operator. In such a closely-networked state, it can take as few as three committed Alaskans to move projects forward. Supporting healthcare innovators introduces new possibilities and allows Alaskans to envision a healthier future that supports Alaskan families, communities, and the economy.