How CIO Myra Davis defined a culture of innovation at Texas Children's Hospital

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Since assuming dual responsibilities of CIO and chief innovation officer earlier this year, Texas Children's Hospital's Myra Davis has streamlined innovation efforts at the Houston-based health system.

Ms. Davis, who was appointed chief information and innovation officer in February, first joined Texas Children's in 2002 as a customer support director. She has since taken on various IT leadership roles within the organization, including vice president of information services and senior vice president and CIO.

Here, Ms. Davis shares the strategy she implemented to tackle the wide berth of innovation initiatives occurring across Texas Children's and how she spearheaded opportunities to produce more growth.

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

Question: How did your role change when chief innovation officer became part of your CIO title? 

Myra Davis: When I was appointed chief information and innovation officer, or when the extra 'I' was added to my title, it became apparent that I really needed to define what innovation meant; not just in the terms of adding it to my title but more importantly how can I assist the organization with the term being part of my title? Our President and CEO Mark Wallace ensures we understand that innovation is everyone's responsibility. Though, you can imagine, if innovation is everyone's responsibility and I have the word in my title, it deserves a level of clarity to ensure that innovation is not immediately perceived as being only my responsibility.

Q: How did you define 'innovation' and all that the word entails?

MD: After I became CIO and chief innovation officer, I went on a discovery for about four months to understand what innovation meant to our organization. During this time, I interviewed many of Texas Children's executives, senior leaders and board members to discuss the meaning of innovation. What I learned was that innovation took on so many different meanings across the organization; anywhere from change to the creation of medical devices to commercialization to leveraging existing technologies and owning companies. I received a wide variety of definitions, but when I looked up the root word of innovation, it really means to make change.

Through this journey, my innovation team and I learned that there was a lot of great activity already happening in the organization; there were grant-supported partnerships focused on creating devices that were in the process of receiving FDA approval. There also was, and still is, great work happening in machine learning and partnerships beginning with startup companies. So, it's not like things weren't happening, but what we realized after completing this discovery period was there was no centralized way to compile all the activity that was going on to present it and market ourselves to show that we are doing great work in the world of innovation.

Q: What inspired you to start Texas Children's innovation hub?

MD: The innovation hub is really designed to aid everyone who is innovative within the organization by providing them a place to go to share ideas or problems, so we can collectively brainstorm opportunities for solving those issues. This is important because the problems we have don't always necessarily warrant the creation of a commercial device to be solved. The solution could be something as simple as leveraging an existing technology to improve a workflow. 

The hub was created to generate thoughts, and it's bi-directional in that it also works externally outside of Texas Children's with startups and incubators to share and seek opportunities we may have or want to consider investing in. It also allows us to share problems that we have and see if our partners have heard of companies that have already addressed and solved the same issue before.

Q: How do you get your team into an innovative mindset/on board with digital transformation?

MD: About two months ago we created an innovation advisory group, which consists of senior executives and physicians. We are educating the group on all the initiatives that have been happening at Texas Children's based on what we learned from our innovation discovery period.

Getting our team on board with innovation and digital transformation is an incremental process. First, it is really changing the culture to welcome an innovation hub that is established to facilitate the innovative thinking of members of the organization. Second, we also look to ways that we can disrupt ourselves and vet new ideas in an expedited way. We have not yet mastered that, but the innovation hub is a mechanism by which to do that. And third, to make sure we're always having the foresight to see what possibilities, whether those ideas come from internal or external sources, and opportunities we have with leveraging data.

Q: What are the biggest obstacles you face when deploying a new tech/innovation initiative?

MD: Understanding that with some of this you must inherit some risk. But that's something we want to tread carefully in understanding how much acceleration of the vetting process we really want to miss or skip to reach the possibility of looking at solutions. Risk inheritance is something we're paying attention to because our brand speaks volumes to us and rightfully so because of our mission.

The other obstacle revolves around data. Our data is an asset, and as an organization of our size, we also recognize there are not many pediatric startups. We have mountains of data that is rich enough for startups to want to work with us, but we must figure out how to monetize that to ensure we're protecting the data and we're working with the right partners moving forward.

Q: What do you consider as the biggest deal breaker when evaluating vendor partnerships?

MD: Cybersecurity is really big for us; it's a significant deal breaker. This is a new space for us, and we want to make sure that the partnerships we create are meaningful in that there is viability in solutions and ideas that are being vetted. We want to create solutions to those ideas, so that's important as well. In some cases, if it is a startup, we definitely want to vet the company or organization to make sure it fits our culture.

Q: If you could eliminate one of the healthcare industry’s biggest technology struggles overnight, which would it be?

MD: That's a tricky one. There are a few that come to mind, but one is using mobile devices to communicate among care teams.  I was just talking to our chief medical information officer, and she has been looking for a way to scale and define a one modality solution in means of communicating via mobile among physicians and nurses. We currently have multiple tools and ways to communicate, but it would be ideal if we could have one way of communicating in a secure manner versus multiple modalities.

The other issue has to do with the prediction of using artificial intelligence. However, one distinction I want to make is that it's augmented intelligence, not artificial. The technology is not designed to replace the scientific thinking of our experts and the field they represent. However, I'm really excited about the opportunity it presents with the ability to take hordes of data and, based on training mechanisms and algorithms, provide very significant data points that can augment the intelligence and thinking of how we can move forward and provide better outcomes, whether operational or clinical.

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