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At the Intersection of Entrepreneurship and Change: Health Care Legislation and the Economy

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There is no shortage of debate over the new health care legislation. Its provisions are far reaching and -- when implemented -- will usher in enormous change in the way health care is delivered in this country. I leave it to the politicians to sort out the ideological, financial, and structural issues involved. Looking at what is coming from the perspective of an entrepreneur, however, reveals a lot that is interesting about what happens at the intersection of entrepreneurship and change.

When there is large-scale change, entrepreneurs pay close attention, because to an entrepreneur, change means opportunity. As the person who leads the Entrepreneurship Program at UIC's College of Business Administration, I have seen this phenomenon time and again. It is something we strive to make a part of the mindset of our next generation of young entrepreneurs. The health care legislation will bring change on a massive scale. Opportunity will follow.

I was thinking about this recently when I learned of a new business started by three recent graduates of the MBA program offered by the Liautaud Graduate School of Business at UIC. Care Team Connect is an Evanston-based firm that combines new technology with a deep understanding of what chronically ill patients need after being discharged from a hospital to dramatically reduce the number of people who have to be quickly readmitted.

The business came about because one of our MBA alumni, Ben Albert, experienced first-hand the gaps in the post-discharge health care delivery model after his grandfather suffered a series of strokes. Leveraging his 12 plus years as a health care technology executive to start the company, he circled back with other alumni, Carrie Kozlowski, OT, VP of Services & Marketing, and Bill Brody, Director of Marketing, to help grow the organization as the implications of the health care legislation took hold. It was not an unusual story because UIC is also home to a major health center where the products of health-related research are often commercialized.

The three realized that the new health care legislation would test the ability of Medicare to keep costs under control without sacrificing quality. Hospital industry critics have long noted the large number of patients who are quickly readmitted to a hospital for the same reason they were admitted in the first place. In the past, such readmissions were treated -- and hospitals were reimbursed -- as new admissions.

The new regulations will sharply reduce payments to hospitals for people who are readmitted within 30 days of discharge. That one change was enough to launch Care Team Connect.

The stakes are high. Research shows that approximately 20 percent of Medicare patients are readmitted to the hospital within 30 days of discharge, costing Medicare approximately $26 billion over the next ten years. It is estimated that three-quarters of those readmissions could be prevented through effective follow-up programs, the heart of what Care Team Connect offers.

Care Team Connect works with hospitals to develop cost-effective evidence-based transition of care programs to prevent these unnecessary readmissions, while improving patient outcomes.

The technology platform features a system of risk stratification for each patient, ranging from low risk of returning and needing little follow-up service to high risk of returning unless an intervention program is developed and followed. The risk assessment drives patient-specific care plans that key hospitals in to what protocols should applied to which patients by the most appropriate resources.

Care Team Connect set up shop in Evanston, attracted venture capital support and began to grow the business rapidly. An early adopter of the Care Team Connect system was Vanguard Health Systems, headquartered in Nashville, with four hospitals in the Chicago region.

The intersection of entrepreneurship and change in the health care industry has brought about other startups by my former students. Matt Norris, Michael McCoy and Dr. Amir Bastawrous began HeartSounds, Inc., which uses sound separation technology developed at UIC in a device that can hear from outside the body -- with great precision -- the sounds of the heart and the blood moving through it. The potential cost savings of this innovation are estimated in the billions of dollars annually. HeartSounds was a Chicago Innovation Award winner in 2009.

I have seen student entrepreneurs at UIC develop and launch businesses connected to such advancements as brain cancer and orthodontic braces. And this is the output of just one university -- I know the list would be lengthened considerably when the contributions of young entrepreneurs at other universities in the Chicago region are added.

There is plenty of downhearted news about young people entering the job market. But it is also a fact that these are times of great change. To a person with an entrepreneurial mindset, that spells opportunity.