FI_StartUp HealthIt was announced today that Wisconsin based health system Aurora Health is partnering with health tech accelerator Startup Health to provide a clinical testbed for StartUp’s early stage digital health companies.

Health tech accelerators, early stage venture funds, incubators are a dime a dozen these days. StartUp Health is one of the older players in this arena and also one of the largest with over 100 companies in their portfolio currently.

For a long time, these incubators functioned in much the same way as the traditional business incubator – provide mentorship, space to work, connections, etc in exchange for a share in the company. More recently, we’ve seen a growing trend of partnerships that highlight one key fact that clinicians have long known – healthcare is different. For a disruptive, game-changing new product to be disruptive or game changing, we need data showing us that it works. Whether that’s a big randomized controlled trial, a smaller case control study, or simply an observational series depends on the product – but we need something.

Aurora Health will become a lead investor in StartUp Health, presumably giving it some share in the successes of StartUp companies. For these early stage companies, Aurora will provide a clinical test bed that “serves more than 1.2 million patients every year via a comprehensive network of facilities, services and providers, including 15 hospitals, 159 clinics, 70 pharmacies and 30,000 amazing caregivers.” In short, they will connect these entrepreneurs to clinical researchers and facilitate testing of their products.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen these types of organizations partnering with a health system. Rock Health recently announced a 3-year partnership with Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA to develop a similar clinical testbed for their companies. Blueprint Health has co-located their offices in NYC with offices of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital’s Innovation Center.

We’re also seeing the launch of what amount to clinical research organizations for digital health. A prime example is Evidation Health, launched out of Stanford, which aims to provide an evidence base to digital health technology. One of the services they will provide is on the design and implementation of clinical trials evaluating digital health products.

As the digital health market matures, it’s encouraging to see the growing recognition of the need for thoughtful and rigorous evaluation of these tools. In an increasingly crowded market, that data will be crucial in helping clinicians & patients understand which products are the real game changers.