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Shake It Up!

0119_Shake it up (8)Disruptive Health Care Technology through Strategic Academic Partnerships

In 1982, the rock band “The Cars” had a #2 hit with “Shake It Up,” a quintessential pop tune about letting go of your conventional self and dancing all night. To some, 1982 may seem like a long time ago, but defying convention remains a pop-and-rock-music staple (think Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off”). More recently, “shaking it up” has made its way into the formerly staid world of health care under the guise of “disruptive technology” (Carnegie Mellon University, 2015).

In its essence, disruptive technology refers to new ways of doing things that disrupt or overturn traditional methods and practices. Many believe that the U.S. health care system is in need of disruption given that the highest health care costs in the world are not justified by superior health outcomes. However, it can be difficult for organizations to develop disruptive technologies because of the potential for upsetting stability.

In essence, like many entrenched industries, we’re wedged between business as usual in the interest of protecting the people we serve, and striving for meaningful change – also in the interest of the people we serve. The end result? The status quo. However, there is a way to escape this conundrum: academic partnerships that seek, introduce, and promote disruptive innovations.

Beacon Health Options (Beacon) is doing just that. Recently, its Connecticut business developed an academic partnership with Yale University’s Program for Recovery and Community Health (PRCH) to improve care for individuals with behavioral health disorders. It’s a tall order, but a critical one. Sometimes organizations require a vision correction as they work among the weeds, and who knows what can emerge from a new – and outside – point of view.

To that end, this partnership will connect Beacon professionals with Yale professors, students, and researchers. In other words, day-to-day delivery meets thought leadership. It’s a perfect marriage. The partnership covers such activities as consultation on research design and statistical questions; the placement of Yale post-doctoral fellows at Beacon to assist with performance targets and data reporting; and the joint development of manuscripts to be published in the professional literature.


The partnership focuses the vision of each organization – Beacon by the extensive research of an academic institution and Yale by the realities of a transactional company. More specifically, Beacon staff work directly with members in need of behavioral health services and supports. They talk with members on the phone; meet with them in hospital emergency rooms; and correspond with providers directly involved in members’ care. This close engagement with the intimate details of members’ lives provides an invaluable perspective on what is needed to succeed in Beacon’s mission to help people live their lives to the fullest potential.

In its essence, disruptive technology refers to new ways of doing things that disrupt or overturn traditional methods and practices.

However, “being in the weeds” can sometimes blur our vision and diminish our ability to see the bigger picture. To be most effective, we also need to influence those factors that operate behind the scenes: the lack of transportation that limits access; the stigma and cultural biases that may hamper engagement; or the nature of financial incentives that at times promote inefficiency in care delivery. Partnership with academic institutions is one way to expand our viewpoint and develop innovative solutions as these centers contribute knowledge of cutting-edge developments in the field. In brief, they provide a broader, more global perspective. For example, the early stages of this partnership has yielded advice from a Brazilian-trained psychiatrist on strategies for client engagement in the face of cultural challenges, as well as insights on the training needs of peer staff working with integrated care models.

As noted above, any good partnership requires that both sides benefit. From the perspective of Yale’s Dr. Larry Davidson, Director of PRCH: “This partnership exposes our faculty and fellows to the realities of everyday clinical practice and offers us opportunities to become intimately familiar with what and how services are being delivered currently.”

Beacon and companies like it do tremendous work that benefits millions of members and businesses every day. However, we still need to “shake it up!” to remain vital in a dynamic health care environment. Business as usual is no longer acceptable.

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