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A $25B Health System's Investment Arm is Banking on Protenus — Your Hospital Should, Too

Providence Ventures, a $300 million Venture Capital fund that invests on behalf of Providence St. Joseph Health, has been closely watching the emergence of artificial intelligence in healthcare technology for years; the potential applications are innumerable.  

While there's plenty of buzz around how AI can advance population health and precision medicine, Providence Ventures has been particularly attracted to solutions with more immediate impact on operational efficiency, according to Senior Partner Jeff Stolte. Specifically, the fund was interested in augmenting traditionally automated, people-intensive processes through a combination of AI and machine learning.

Jeff Stolte and Nick Culbertson discussed how Providence Ventures and Protenus came together in Episode 16 of Funding The Future of Healthcare. Click here to stream the podcast.

So, when Protenus came knocking several years ago with AI- and automation-driven healthcare compliance analytics, Providence Ventures took note.

"They seemed to be for real," Stolte said in a recent episode of Funding the Future of Healthcare, a podcast series. "We dug into the technology, and they were achieving promising real-world results."

Unlike other companies, Protenus wasn't just tossing around the term “artificial intelligence.” To Providence Ventures, it seemed that Protenus actually leveraged this increasingly popular tool in a meaningful way. That impression was validated when investors checked in with their colleagues on the operational side of Providence St. Joseph Health, around the time of Protenus' Series C fundraising process.

"It turned out that Providence's compliance leadership team had independently come to the same conclusions we were coming to regarding the company's promise, as they were already engaging with Protenus in a promising pilot," Stolte said. "... That was a great sign, and it really opened the door for Providence Ventures to make an investment in the company."

Compliance at scale

Patient privacy was of paramount importance to Providence even before Protenus came along. In healthcare over the past decade, ubiquitous deployment of EMRs without the best of security protocols flung the door wide-open for patient privacy violations. For Providence St. Joseph, an organization of 120,000 employees — most of whom are clinicians working in patient records on a daily basis — the potential for improper access to or use of patient data grew to be massive. 

With Protenus, the health system has been able to maintain and enhance existing monitoring capabilities in a scalable manner, Stolte said, "while avoiding the overhead related to hiring an army of compliance screeners or using outsourced services like consultants."

This ability to make efficient use of existing resources became even more important when the pandemic zapped health systems' budgets, upended standard workflows, and brought with it a torrent of new privacy risks. For instance, employees were bribed to share their credentials, hackers targeted intellectual property at academic medical centers conducting COVID-19 research, and workflow changes poked holes in medical record safeguards, Protenus CEO Nick Culbertson explained on the Funding the Future of Healthcare podcast.

"All of these things came together in a trifecta of risk for hospital systems that really increased the threat surface area overall," he said.

Pressing onward

As Nick sees it, compliance risks for health systems will only continue to mount even when the COVID-19 crisis is over. Years of data from Protenus' research team — as well as buy-in from the VC fund of Providence St. Joseph, a $25 billion health care system — lend credence to his forecast.

Moving forward with Providence Ventures' vote of confidence, Protenus is exploring how its AI-powered technology can be combined with human expertise to address the evolving compliance challenges hospital systems face. Issues such as prescription fraud and billing fraud, for example, are on the company's radar.  

As Protenus' capabilities grow even broader, Providence Ventures is proud to stand by "what we believe to be the best compliance analytics company in healthcare today," according to Stolte.

"Given our belief that AI can dramatically reduce costs while improving our operations" across a number of areas, he said, "we're excited to help ensure that Protenus' expanding solution gets the attention it deserves."

To learn more about how Protenus is future-proofing Providence's compliance capabilities and delivering value for Providence Ventures, listen to Episode 16 of Funding the Future of Healthcare.

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