Incubating Innovation to Transform Healthcare for All, Michael R. Crawford EMHL ’19

Michael R. Crawford, Brown University Executive Master of Healthcare Leadership (EMHL) Class of 2019, is the Chief of Staff at Unity Health Care, Inc., a nonprofit network of 25 health care sites in Washington, DC, and one of the largest community health center networks in the United States with more than 1,000 employees serving over 106,000 patients annually. He recently talked with us about how he is using his Critical Challenge Project (CCP), an EMHL capstone requirement, to advance healthcare for all through innovation.

Transforming Healthcare for Medically Underserved Communities

Working with his Brown EMHL brain trust of leading faculty and cohort members across the healthcare sector, Crawford is using his CCP to develop a business plan for MRC Health Lab (MRC), an innovation organization that supports researchers, innovators, and entrepreneurs tackling complex health challenges in medically underserved communities.  The inspiration for this health innovation lab is born out of Unity’s mission to promote healthier communities through compassion and comprehensive health and human services, regardless of ability to pay.

Unity’s new East of the River Health Center project located at the Conway Center is emblematic of Unity’s approach to healthcare transformation and population health strategies. Scheduled to open the first quarter of 2019, this innovative health center is a “one-stop shop” that includes primary care, subspecialty care, pharmacy, a substance abuse and addiction program, dental, wellness space, imaging, and lab services in one location.

Crawford, who partners with the President and CEO on the strategic and operational management of Unity, explained,

Unity’s East of the River Health Center combines a broad array of services through meaningful strategic partnerships and co-location strategies predicated on the alignment of mission, vision, and values. The strategies were devised under the auspices of addressing various social determinants of health, such as housing, healthcare, employment, and transportation that often serve as persistent barriers for patients attempting to achieve optimal health.

A New Healthcare Incubator is Born

As an executive of a leading progressive health organization, Crawford noticed a fundamental chasm in the utilization of digital health tools between medically underserved communities and the broader public. Crawford believes the tech and investment community do not possess an intimate understanding of medically underserved communities. As a result, end-users are typically overlooked when a new product or solution is being developed. The primary barriers according to Crawford are two-fold:

On the one hand, innovation is being developed from a ‘top-down’ perspective whereby innovators and investors are influencing the product design process, resulting in a misalignment of product and value for end users in medically underserved communities. On the other hand, innovators, entrepreneurs, and researchers developing products for this population do not possess the requisite relationships with tech, venture capital, or Silicone Valley to advance promising solutions to commercialization.

Crawford developed MRC to bridge this gap.  MRC embeds entrepreneurs and innovators in a collaborative ecosystem of healthcare providers, payers, suppliers, tech, venture capital, and patients to drive the commercialization and adoption of digital health solutions for medically underserved communities.  Integrating the latest technology, data, human-centered design, and service principles, MRC enables innovators to engage in a “bottom-up” design process. Crawford explained,

Catalyzing innovation in underserved communities requires new approaches and thinking with respect to end user engagement.  MRC’s model assumes the end user is the most important ingredient in product design, and systematically incorporates the end users’ perspective throughout the program. At the same time, it offers an opportunity for suppliers, payers, providers, and investors to evaluate the efficacy of products and solutions over the life of the program.

Advancing MRC Health Lab from CCP to Practice

Crawford is in active discussions with local Washington, DC partners to pilot MRC’s program in a clinical environment to test its efficacy, extract best practices, and refine the offering accordingly. Eventually, he sees MRC developing a standalone offering to engage innovators across multiple geographies.

In contrast to the highly regulated medical world, MRC provides a psychologically safe environment that inspires, empowers, and stimulates creativity; where individuals can feel unencumbered to solve complex health problems from new perspectives.

EMHL provides a similar environment – a place to engage in meaningful dialogue regarding challenges confronting healthcare with talented professionals, who share a critical passion to solve problems creatively.


Michael R. Crawford, EMHL ’19

About Michael R. Crawford: Michael R. Crawford, EMHL 2019, is the Chief of Staff at Unity Health Care, Inc., a nonprofit network of twenty-nine health care sites with more than 1,000 employees that serves over 108,000 patients annually, and one of the largest community health center networks in the United States. In this capacity, Michael partners with the President and CEO on the strategic and operational management of Unity and collaborates with members of the Executive Management Team on the execution of critical enterprise wide business initiatives. Michael is a member of the Executive Management Team and serves as the President and CEO’s liaison between the Board of Directors, Executive Management Team, external stakeholders, government officials, funders, and staff.

Michael serves on numerous national and local committees, including the National Association of Community Health Centers Health Policy and Eldercare Committee, DC Chamber of Commerce Health Policy and Legislative Affairs Committee, DC Primary Care Association Healthcare Transformation Committee, Member of American College of Healthcare Executives, Member of National PACE Association, Member of Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development, and Board Member of Boys and Girls Clubs Greater Washington.

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