Portland seen as future hub for medical data

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PORTLAND — Medical data and diagnostics may entail a lot of things, but for Mayor Michael Brennan, it boils down to business.

“We will shape the future economy of the city and state,” Brennan said Oct. 8, when he announced that Growing Portland, a collaborative effort of businesses, educators and city government, received a $50,000 grant to assess how the city and state can become leaders in providing the medical data at the core of what is called the “health informatics” industry.

Half the grant comes from the nonprofit Maine Technology Institute, based in Brunswick and founded in 1999 by the Legislature. The remainder comes from matching contributions from InterMed, MaineHealth, Maine Medical Center, the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, and Winxnet.

MTI and the business community contributors will conduct a study known as the Health Informatics Assessment Project, expected to be completed in the next six months.

During a news conference at City Hall, Growing Portland Manager John Spritz said the grant will fund a study to determine how to make the city and state a hub for the health informatics industry.

Brennan said there would be a “health informatics cluster” of businesses, creating and using medical data that already exists in the city. Spritz envisioned a much wider scale and scope in the future.

“We don’t know what a center means yet,” he said, although he suggested it will also involve Southern Maine Community College for job training, and master’s and doctorate programs at other state colleges and universities.

Winxnet and iVantage Health Analytics are at the forefront, and Spritz said the cluster could reach all the way to Bar Harbor and Jackson Labs.

While Spritz was uncertain whether the cluster would have a bricks-and-mortar presence in addition to its digital connection, he said he is confident Portland and Maine could become a regional, if not national, leader in providing and storing the data used for diagnoses and treatments.

“No city in America has put its stamp down on this,” he said.

Growing Portland, established in 2013 by Brennan and the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, is looking throughout the city to bolster its economy, but the grant and study are both “historic” and “unprecedented,” Brennan said.

Brennan compared the potential of a health informatics cluster to “research triangles” of information technology, research and development, and labs found around Boston or Raleigh and Durham, North Carolina.

Chamber Executive Director Chris Hall said Growing Portland is taking a very wide view.

“What makes the Growing Portland collaborative so powerful is that it brings together leaders from key constituencies – business, R&D, and higher education – to look at how we can grow this region,” Hall said. “How can we attract young people, investments, and jobs? Health informatics is just one of the potential answers, and this grant peels back the layers on that potential.”

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.