FFrom the tapes to the reflective strips that line highways and street signs, and even the tooth-colored filling material used in virtually every dental office in the world, one company is responsible for it all: 3M.
At some point today, you’ve probably interacted with a product made by this “invisible” giant. So, ironically, the “invisible” giant is anything but invisible. You may not realize how noticeable they really are.
Behind this vast onslaught of manufacturing prowess, 3M has built a behind-the-scenes software empire within a nearly $10 trillion market: healthcare. And it all started along the Silicon Slopes.
In the late 1970s, a Ph.D. student in the biomedical informatics program at the University of Utah was continuing his thesis work trying to develop an automated system for some of the more archaic manual medical mapping practices at LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City. John Morgan essentially believed that computers could be designed to think like doctors rather than the other way around.
His belief in this theory was so fierce that he built his “prototype” mainframe computer out of the back of an old motorhome and traveled the country in the early 80s to showcase his radical new coding platform. clinics still using old manual systems. It didn’t take long for healthcare organizations to realize the value of digitizing medical records and begin redirecting their budgets to Morgan’s new medical coding software.
That’s when 3M caught wind of Morgan’s technology. Leveraging 3M’s resources and commitment to innovation, their proprietary platform now had an accurate and efficient way to categorize a patient by diagnosis. Next, the company leveraged the technology to estimate the average resource usage to process the diagnosis, essentially creating a baseline unit cost for healthcare. It proved to be such an impactful breakthrough that in 1983 Medicare adopted it as the basis of the prospective inpatient payment system for federal reimbursement in all 50 states.
Not surprisingly, much more has happened in 3M health software innovation since the 1980s. This area of the 3M company, called 3M Health Information Systems (HIS), is housed (and thrives) in Salt Lake City. , where it all began decades ago.
“Most people don’t realize that one of 3M’s most profitable businesses – and indeed its fastest growing – is headquartered here in the Salt Lake Valley: the Healthcare Software Division. from 3M (HealthIT),” said Dan McMaster, director of strategy and business development. at 3M Health Information Systems and graduated from the University of Utah.
3M Health IT employs more than 3,000 employees, many of whom reside in Utah and plan to hire hundreds of people annually over the next five years.
“Our core business in R&D and software development is here. Our leadership team, our strategy, our marketing are all housed here in Salt Lake…[and] we expect to hire more than 200 people per year over the next five years,” says McMaster.
It’s a ton of health care bandwidth pulsating across the Beehive State and driving innovation from its humble roots as a thesis project at LDS Hospital.
Looking to the future of 3M HealthIT’s innovation landscape, their goals are three-fold: 1) Improve the revenue cycle, 2) Create time for care, and 3) Drive value-based care. Regarding the first objective, massive loads of medical waste are generated around the world (with the United States in the lead, representing more than 900 billion dollars on an annual basis). 3M HealthIT hopes to optimize Morgan’s original PhD theory. project at the U by creating artificially intelligent computerized systems that can think like and follow innovative doctors.
The second objective highlights the incredibly busy physician system that is moving towards higher burnout rates every year. Depending on the specialty, some recent surveys capture physician burnout rates above 60%. And those rates aren’t expected to drop as the next generation of physicians enter the workforce (i.e. millennials), likely demanding fairer working environments and adequate compensation for their efforts. .
3M Health IT seeks to alleviate some of this burden, likely contributing to rising burnout rates by reducing the time physicians spend away from their patients managing administrative payloads within billing and complex and complicated medical coding.
In turn, 3M’s third goal will become more achievable, emphasizing healthcare value rather than units of output. These are human lives, after all, and not just tape units in a 3M factory.