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Health Care Innovation Ramps Up to Meet COVID-19 Challenges

Published May 15, 2020 by Lou Ann Duvall

Texas Medical Center Drone Shot

One of Houston’s health care innovation experts says COVID-19 is reshaping the way the industry addresses the growing needs of patients. 

Roberta Schwartz, executive vice president and chief innovation officer of Houston Methodist Hospital, recently addressed this during the Partnership’s virtual Innovation Council meeting on May 12. Schwartz is responsible for advancing and expanding Houston Methodist’s digital innovation platforms, including telemedicine, artificial intelligence and big data. 

She said COVID-19 prompted Methodist to accelerate its plans to explore several technological initiatives and resources, from the role of telemedicine in patient care to tools to better engage patients remotely.

Virtual Visits
Schwartz said Houston Methodist’s telemedicine program has played a key role in combating COVID-19. In response to the crisis, Methodist wired nearly 130 ICU rooms in order to launch a virtual intensive care unit, including bi-directional audio communication, open video and audio with privacy indicators and telehealth buttons to contact the Operation Centers. Methodist was originally planning on a six month rollout to fully integrate and adopt the system, but Schwartz noted it took Methodist just two and a half weeks to ramp up the program. Methodist also deployed more than 400 iPads to enable physicians to do virtual patient rounds. 

The Technology Hub at Houston Methodist also provided a complete environment for clinical staff, doctors, nurses and patients to experience and evaluate cutting-edge innovation and training. The Tech Hub, where telemedicine training takes place, trained more than 300 clinicians in six weeks. 

“The role of telemedicine is here to stay,” said Schwartz. “This allowed for adoption to happen at a faster rate. Over 4,000 daily virtual visits are happening, which happened within a 60 day span – both from patients and clinicians.”

Digital Care Pathways 
Care pathways have provided a standardized set of information about patient care through text, phone or email before individuals get to the hospital as well as after they go home. This breaks down information so it's easier for patients to understand. 

Schwartz says this enables a smoother process for patients, especially those diagnosed with COVID-19, so they are better informed and prepared. Based on feedback received so far, Schwartz said the patient satisfaction rate for this communication process is 98%.  

Patient Engagement Initiatives 
As COVID-19 cases increased in Houston, Methodist and other medical institutions revised their visitor policies to mitigate the spread of the disease. 

“We needed to find innovative ways to connect our patients and families. We were challenged to keep our visitors comfortable because of the changed visitor policy,” said Schwartz.

Methodist focused on engaging patients through technologies they were already familiar with, such as Zoom and Alexa. The hospital also leveraged entertainment channels such as Netflix and Hulu to engage patients. In all, Methodist deployed more than 350 devices in COVID-19 units.  

Click here for more COVID-19 resources for small businesses. Visit the Partnership's COVID-19 Resource page for updates, guidance for employers and more information. And sign up for email alerts from the Partnership as the situation develops. 

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