Novant Health, the parent company of Novant Health New Hanover Regional Medical Center, has established a new business division that will serve as an incubator for ways to enhance clinical care for its patients, streamline daily operations, and pioneer technological advancements that will help staff do their jobs even better.
The new division, called Novant Health Enterprises (NHE), operates as an independent business entity able to engage in partnerships with other health care organizations, make investments or acquire third-party enterprises, said Dean Swindle, an executive vice president at Novant Health and president of Novant Health Enterprises.
“There’s just a tremendous amount of talent in the industry in this country today, and the world, that are every day waking up thinking of new things to do and better ways of doing it. They need sponsors, both financially and operationally, and so we are searching those out to partner with, those types of organizations, to provide seed investing to those organizations, along with others in the industry to kind of help them get off the ground,” Swindle said.
“We ride with them in their journey to help them develop their product. And then we’re able to hopefully benefit from that, both in capability and financial resources that can be redeployed back into our communities,” he said.
Novant will consider commercializing successful projects as appropriate, Swindle added.
Formation of the new division follows two years of pressure in the health care arena: COVID-related strains on equipment and hospital capacity; staff shortages and burnout; a rapid conversion to virtual medicine; inflationary costs and technological disruptors in the industry that could negatively impact some hospitals’ bottom lines.
“The hospital has been just the center of our world for so many years, and it always will be, but patients are living longer. They’re more sick. So that makes it tougher on our employees obviously, and we just need to make sure that if there are alternative settings that we can have, that we can provide good quality care and decompress the hospital somewhat,” Swindle said.
The use of digital technology by Novant Health – and by NHRMC prior to joining Novant in 2021 – helped set the stage for greater public acceptance of virtual medicine, which took off during the pandemic.
In 2019, Novant Health introduced artificial intelligence in the Carolinas to analyze images of suspected large-vessel occlusion strokes. Partnering with Viz.ai, stroke specialists began saving “critical minutes, even hours, in the triage, diagnosis and treatment of strokes,” a corporate statement said at the time.
That same year, Novant announced that it had partnered with Tyto Care to provide “anywhere, anytime” medical examinations. By equipping families with a compact portable device, medical staff can virtually examine the heart, lungs, skin, ears, throat and abdomen of children without their having to go to the emergency room or a doctor’s office. Tyto Care also allows older adults to forego office visits for minor health issues.
Last September, Novant Health launched COVID Care at Home for patients who had been hospitalized with COVID-19 and who could safely transition to at-home monitoring, virtual care and any office visits needed. New Hanover Regional Medical Center had launched a similar program in 2020. “We plan to expand this model beyond COVID-19 to reach and benefit even more patients,” a Novant Health statement said.
Swindle said home-based care is bound to expand on multiple fronts as Novant Health Enterprises takes flight, citing virtual behavioral health visits during the pandemic as one example.
On the nursing front, “labor issues are very difficult right now,” Swindle said. “It’s not always about pay. It really is about work environment. It is about opportunity to advance and do more things that they feel is consistent with their career. So there is a lot of technology that will allow us to do that type of matching” that may include at-home and other out-of-hospital care, he said.
Meantime, the UNC School of Medicine’s Wilmington campus is set to increase the number of medical students engaged in training there. In March 2021, just after Novant Health closed on its acquisition of NHRMC, 30 students were projected to be enrolled at the Wilmington campus by 2026. That number has now doubled, to 60.