Enthusiastic, animated, and innovative, Christopher Meenan left no doubt why he was among UMB’s 2015 Founders Week award winners with an insightful and entertaining Entrepreneur of the Year presentation “Health Informatics: A New Frontier for Innovation in Medicine” on Oct. 21.
Meenan, a faculty research associate in the School of Medicine’s Department of Diagnostic Radiology and Nuclear Medicine, recalled tales of his early career in the finance industry when Y2K was feared to be an “apocalyptic event” and later when he worked at America Online, which was striving “to be innovative” by putting 30 million people on the Internet.
He came to the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) in 2003 as the Department of Radiology’s information technology director. After several years, he found the analytics solutions he and his team were coming up with to solve operational problems and improve quality and work flow in the department had greater ramifications.
“I would speak at national meetings and describe how we were improving efficiency and people would come up to me afterward and say, ‘How do I get this?’ And I would say, ‘You can’t’ because we weren’t in that business.”
After about 10 times, it dawned on Meenan that others needed to network and utilize the Department of Radiology’s discoveries. “How do I make that happen?” Meenan wondered.
So with the support of his School of Medicine supervisors and UMB’s Office of Research and Development, Meenan in 2011 co-founded Analytical Informatics (AI), a health informatics company dedicated to providing meaningful savings and improved efficiency for health delivery organizations by making it easier to access clinical data.
Under Meenan’s leadership as CEO, Al has founded a consortium of leading academic medical centers that are working together to build the next generation of informatics tools.
With its targeted suite of analytics tools, AI has helped, among other things, move organizations from paper sharing to electronic medical records (EMRs).
Calling AI’s advances a “brave new beginning,” Meenan drew a parallel, explaining how he recently explained to his 14-year-old daughter how cameras used to produce film that had to be developed at a store. “She looked at me like she couldn’t believe what I was taiking about,” he said as the crowd at the UM BioPark’s Life Sciences Conference Center laughed. Then the digital camera replaced that technology entirely and on to today’s smartphones with built-in cameras. “Waves of innovation,” Meenan said.
The company's Al Bridge has been especially successful. It’s a highly flexible and real-time data platform that integrates disparate hospital data sources, normalizing each different system into a standard format.
As entrepreneurs we look for disruptive innovation, Meenan said, new ways of doing old tasks more efficiently, riding the waves of change.
What’s the next wave?
“When I first got into health care there was lots of paper-based work flow. Now here we are in the broad adoption of EMRs. What’s next? That’s the exciting thing to me.”
Perhaps the next wave is creating an interoperable learning health care system, added Meenan, who sees no local roadblocks to further innovation. “Maryland has all the resources entrepreneurs need,” he said. “We just have to do it. We have broad opportunities to create the next wave of informatics technologies that will have a meaningful impact on people’s lives, tools that truly make a difference.”
Making a difference was on the mind of President Jay A. Perman, MD, when he opened the presentation by discussing UMB’s “culture of entrepreneurship.”
“Along with many other research universities over the past decade, we’ve grown increasingly impatient with science that sits on a shelf. So we’ve undertaken some bold changes in structure and operations to better support translational science and commercialization.
“With the University of Maryland, College Park, we launched UM Ventures, a collaborative tech-transfer office, where inventors can securely disclose and develop their ideas.”
UMB is now conducting about 400 translational research projects and clinical trials each year. Its invention disclosures are up from 88 in 2011 to 139 last year, a 58 percent jump, said Perman, who went on to share some recent achievements by UMB’s licensees.
Before introducing Meenan, E. Albert Reece, MD, PhD, MBA, UMB’s vice president for medical affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, spoke of the need to start such innovation earlier in researchers’ careers, citing the school’s Young Brain Initiative.
And at the end of the ceremony, Perman and UM Ventures’ James L. Hughes, MBA, and Phil Robilotto, DO, MBA, saluted many of the faculty who had earned patents in the past year with plaques and congratulations.
“This is breakthrough science,” Perman said. “This is science that matters.”
To read more about UMB’s Founders Week Award winners, visit https://www.umaryland.edu/founders/2015-awards/.