10 execs share their systems' best innovation projects in 2021

This year has been ripe with opportunities to improve healthcare delivery through digital innovation. Below, 10 executives from health systems across the country share the project they've been most proud of in 2021.

Editor's note: Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and style.

Karen Murphy, PhD, RN. Chief Innovation Officer at Geisinger (Danville, Pa.): While the past year has been challenging, it has accelerated opportunities to leverage technology in transforming healthcare delivery. During the pandemic, we had to figure out the best way to manage care outside of the clinics and hospitals. At Geisinger, we developed a new model of care for patients with chronic diseases called ConnectedCare365. 

The traditional model for chronic disease management involved case managers monitoring patients over the phone or having episodic in-person visits with little contact in between scheduled appointments. In our new care model, patients are in continuous contact with case managers through a communication platform that leverages remote patient monitoring and patient reported outcomes. The new model increases case managers’ efficiency and allows for earlier intervention to prevent disease exacerbation. 

We are at the beginning of the journey. Our true north will be to demonstrate a better experience for patients, families and providers while improving clinical outcomes. It is inspiring to reflect on other ways we can power technology to transform healthcare. I’m certain when we look back on the pandemic our lessons in digital transformation will be one of the silver linings.

Omkar Kulkarni. Chief Innovation Officer at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles: At Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, we like to start with a problem and work backward to solve it. Pediatric surgeons and rehab specialists have been telling us that engaging patients in their rehab exercises can sometimes be difficult, especially for younger patients. Further, pediatric providers often have limited mechanisms to determine how well their patients are recovering in between physical therapy sessions. 

Through our KidsX Pediatric Digital Health Accelerator, we worked with a startup, Augment Therapy, that is leveraging augmented reality to engage pediatric patients in their physical therapy rehab. We then connected with our colleagues at Sesame Workshop to incorporate recognizable characters into the app. Now this gamified, physical therapy software is helping patients enthusiastically engage in their rehab while providing clinicians data about the progress patients are making in their recovery.

Nick Patel, MD. Chief Digital Officer at Prisma Health (Columbia, S.C.): I would say my favorite and most rewarding innovation project over this past year has been expanding our use of clinical chatbots. Automation plays such an integral role in optimizing and enriching the patient experience, as well as standardizing care pathways. We started with the COVID-19 symptom checker, which was very popular and helped reduce call volumes into our nurse triage lines. We then deployed the return to work COVID-19 chat and then eventually the vaccine chat. 

Due to our success with our chatbot partner, we recently signed an enterprise contract to include a greater library of clinical chats for hypertension management, diabetes, post-emergency department discharge, post-surgical chat and many more. We are also excited to co-develop new chats with our chatbot partner to introduce even more automation into our digital health spectrum of services.

Richard Zane, MD. Chief Innovation Officer at UCHealth (Aurora, Colo.): In January 2021 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, UCHealth organized and implemented Colorado’s first ever mass vaccination event that was, at that time, the most efficient such drive-through event in the country as evidenced by volume of vaccines administered/cars per hour as well as time per car. The process became a model around the world as hundreds of local, state, national and international government entities, municipalities, health authorities and others downloaded the  "UCHealth Vaccine Playbook" that details a blueprint for how to emulate the event.

The innovative approach that led to the success of the event was centered on using real time data to drive predictive and prescriptive intelligence creating a learning system, which then became more efficient hour to hour and day to day. One of the key drivers was using technology to our advantage to safely increase the throughput of cars. Specifically, using handheld technology, in this case the Apple iPhone, in conjunction with Epic Rover to maximize vaccinators’ mobility, flexibility and speed. This allowed for a much more efficient process of registration, check-in and consent, all conducted through each patient’s EMR. The alternative would have been myriad laptops, each on its own wheeled cart and tethered to a network, rolling around the large parking lot. In short, it took innovative thinking, the thoughtful integration of AI along with cutting-edge while nearly ubiquitous technology (iPhones) to nearly double the vehicle throughput (pilot vs. actual).

 Key statistics from the event include:

  •  Two six-hour days
  • 10,000 vaccines administered, using 26 vaccinators
  • 834 cars per hour
  • 22.4 minutes per car, including the 15-minute observation period
  • Zero unused doses
  •  0.9 percent patient no-show rate
  • All appointments filled within 72 hours

Mark Kandrysawtz. Chief Innovation Officer at WellSpan Health (York, Pa.): We're working on innovations in the consumer experience, like augmented reality and ultra-easy self-scheduling. We’re also working on technology-enabled care model transformation. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I’ll spotlight a timely project. Duo Healthcare is a subscription all-online primary care for people who value health but are looking for a uniquely different way of interacting with their primary care office. It is designed to meet the needs of consumers who are disenfranchised with the traditional health care model by offering video visits, secure messaging, telephone visits, connected devices, proactive monitoring and 24/7 access — all with the express intent of achieving your best health. 

With the COVID-19 pandemic driving an increase in digital healthcare, we were able to accelerate our timeline for Duo and activate our closed public beta earlier this year, with our open public launch planned for early 2022. I am really looking forward to seeing how Duo changes healthcare in our community!

Daniel Durand, MD. Chief Clinical Officer at LifeBridge Health (Baltimore): The greatest health innovation of 2021 was unquestionably the mass vaccination efforts worldwide utilizing the world’s first mRNA vaccines. It was also the year that health equity truly became our industry’s "fifth aim," taking its rightful place beside improved outcomes, reduced costs and enhancements to the patient and provider experience. 

For these reasons, my favorite Innovation project at LifeBridge this past year involved our work with Live Chair Health, an innovative digital health company that collaborates with barbershops and salons to engage patients within the African American community on a variety of important healthcare issues.  

Working with the Live Chair network, our LifeBridge Health mobile clinic team created "pop-up" vaccination sites outside several barber shops in some of the most economically disadvantaged neighborhoods of West Baltimore, where vaccination rates were very low. Heroic barbers who are trusted members of their respective communities helped encourage hundreds of previously hesitant people to be vaccinated as a result of this partnership. 

Unfortunately, this project did not entirely solve the problem of low vaccination rates, which continue to be an issue in West Baltimore. However, this is the kind of front-line engagement that embodies what it means to “Care Bravely” and the kind of mission-driven work that can, over time, win the trust of the communities we serve on the complex issue of COVID vaccination. 

Suja Chandrasekaran. Chief Information and Digital Officer at CommonSpirit Health (Chicago): Our biggest impact is building Innovation as a sustained culture — not just as a one-off. This is reflected in innovative transformative progress across all we do. The annual CommonSpirit wide hackathon showcased about 100 hacks, of which 10 have become scaled products — these span the spectrum of patient-, provider- and administrator-centered capabilities applying ingenuity and solving problems.  

We have a few top ones — connected journeys for patients by which patients navigate across our delivery network and care continuum, making it a delight for patients to engage with us.  Rapid scaling employee experiences during vaccine processes is another.

Thomas Graham, MD. Chief Innovation and Transformation Officer at Kettering Health (Dayton, Ohio): In the past year, Kettering Health has launched Innovation Kettering to capitalize on our creative culture and further the legacy of our founder, one of history’s most prolific innovators. Standing up an apparatus to perform innovation-at-scale de novo required the vision of our CEO, Fred Manchur, and our leadership team, as well as the collaboration of our world-class CIO, Andy Lehman.

Unlike our pioneering work in establishing innovation in the academy over two decades ago when we operated a single nucleus of innovation (an innovation center), we developed the approach of “embedded innovation,” distributing the capacity and responsibility to innovate throughout the enterprise.

Innovation Kettering exists throughout the organization and is linked by shared services, unified processes and the singular mission to improve and extend human life while creating economic opportunities for the communities we serve. Linking our multiple sites innovation then creates a neural network that delivers the agility we need to solve problems efficiently and economically. We think Charles F. Kettering would be proud of the way we are following his example.

Leonard Achan, RN. President of the Hospital for Special Surgery Innovation Institute (New York City): The first is that HSS Innovation Institute partnered with a novel leading AI-based technology, Teslasuit, that incorporates motion capture, biometrics and haptic feedback. It is a first-in-kind relationship that will transform physical therapy and motion capture for consumers and patients struggling from pain and mobility issues.It will feature the first-ever combination of biometrics, haptics and motion analytics for rehab that will not be tethered to a lab.

Over the next three years, HSS & Teslasuit will build the capabilities to integrate this into medical care. This partnership is an example of how next generation, innovative technology partnerships empower more simple solutions that will improve quality and outcomes.

Jeffrey Sturman. Senior Vice President and Chief Digital Officer at Memorial Healthcare System (Hollywood, Fla.): I have a couple of projects that I think will rise to "innovation status." First, we are positioning Memorial Healthcare System to engage our consumers in ways that they want, to make connections as varied and easy as possible. We implemented new and more modern cloud-based technology in our contact centers, rebranded as our patient access center. This new digitally enabled center takes advantage of omni-channel capabilities for voice, text, chat, email and most importantly, self-service. We will be evolving over this next year further into gamification as well. 

Memorial has also started the deployment of a really innovative solution for hand washing compliance. In the face of COVID-19, the need to create ways to reduce hospital acquired infections has become even more important. This tool helps not only achieve a greater level of compliance by meeting regulatory guidelines but truly impacts and combats infections in our hospitals. The data that is automatically measured proves that infections are reduced while also creating a mechanism for accurate contact tracing. Furthermore, as we have been looking for solutions over a number of years, we have been unable to find an offering that was cost effective until working with our current vendor. The costs have been considerably lower than what we had seen from many other vendors, and the lift from our IT staff has been very minimal in both implementation and support.


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