Carrot and stick in Inova’s massive precision medicine investment

For months, details have trickled out about Inova Health System’s massive plan to build out new personalized health campus in Merrifield, complete with a new cancer center, precision medicine research center and wellness services.

But after years of false starts, what pushed the health system to make this major leap now?

As Inova’s CEO Knox Singleton described it at the Global Cities Initiative event Thursday, a combination of carrot and stick that recently emerged in medicine to create this perfect opportunity.

Singleton was referring to changes in the health care payment model under the Affordable Care Act, as well as advances in the use of genomics and big data that are starting to be used to predict health risks and help patients potentially avoid disease.

“The prospect of getting paid for the first time to keep people healthy and out of the hospital, and — simultaneously — the ability to dodge some of these bullets around cancer and heart disease: That is a whole new paradigm,” Singleton said.

In February, Inova announced it would acquire the former Exxon Mobil campus in Merrifield for $180 million. Several months later, it unveiled a donation from Dwight and Martha Schar to help build a $250 million cancer center. Inova wants to create an entire campus geared toward keeping individuals healthy, rather than just treating patients when they are sick.

Of course, it didn’t hurt that there was a 117-acre campus up for sale just across the street from Inova’s flagship Fairfax hospital. But there was also much more to it, Singleton said.

“I’m not sure it was some ‘Eureka!’ in the middle of the night, but it was clearly where the economic opportunities lie,” Singleton said about the health system’s timing. “I think at Inova that leading that process is going to be a lot like the way the discovery of the germ theory changed infectious diseases.”

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