U of M Physicians opening new health technology center in Mill City

The center plans to use increased business partnerships to improve general patient care and benefit communities.

by Elizabeth Ryan

University of Minnesota Physicians is opening a research and development lab to make general patient care easier.

The Mill City Innovation and Collaboration Center will partner with businesses later this summer to develop new health care technologies that could increase efficiency and decrease the costs of health care.

The center will be part of the University Physicians’ Mill City Clinic, where new technologies can be tested and applied.

“We started bouncing the idea around, really out of frustration from seeing a lot of good technology not being adopted,” said Rick Tanler, an Innovation and Collaboration Center board member.

The center will allow businesses from around the state and country to work with University researchers to directly apply the inventions to patient care.

“We wanted to establish a multidisciplinary research site, and we couldn’t do that alone at the University,” said Dr. Kevin Peterson, director of the University’s Center of Excellence in Primary Care. “So we formed a University and industry partnership.”

Business and industry money made up 7.4 percent of the University’s research funding last fiscal year. The number of grants from businesses has increased steadily over the last decade.

Partnerships like this one are common at the University and can include sponsored research, product testing and design programs.

“They’re an incredibly valuable opportunity to connect with real life problems and solve them,” said Pamela Webb, associate vice president for research.

One problem is the way patients receive primary care, which can often prevent future health issues.

Primary care doctors see more patients per year than the total number of treatments that specialists give, Peterson said. The center will focus on improving the way patients receive primary care because right now, he said, the University’s clinics place too much attention on specialty care.

“And yet, almost all of our money is spent on that one [specialty] patient,” he said, as opposed to a community seeking primary care.

Technology developed at the center could also eliminate inefficient doctor’s appointments like prescription check-ups, Peterson said.

“You’re doing fine … on a medicine, and pretty soon you have to take off a couple hours from work to go see a doctor,” he said. “He looks at you and says, ‘You’re doing good,’ and pats you on the shoulder … and refills your prescription.”

Instead of going into a doctor’s office, all the tests a doctor might have run could be done at home with technology from the Innovation and Collaboration Center.

“It’s really an unnecessary visit,” Peterson said.  “We can do all of that at home.”

In addition to solving problems, partnerships between the University and businesses can benefit research and learning for faculty members and students.

The partnerships keep faculty members up to date on industry practices and help prepare students for work experiences after the University, Webb said.

At the Innovation and Collaboration Center, both Peterson and Tanler say they are eager for student involvement.

“We are real excited about doing some work where we can tap into the student environment,” Tanler said. “We can give them the problem and see what the students come up with.”