'You can't slow down': Houston Methodists' Michelle Stansbury on how to innovate amid the pandemic

Michelle Stansbury, vice president of IT innovation at Houston Methodist, is a big believer in continued innovation, even during the pandemic.

At the Becker's Healthcare Health IT + Revenue Cycle Management Virtual Event, Ms. Stansbury discussed the most essential technology investments for health systems and why it's imperative not to slow down innovation even with a limited budget.

Editor's note: These responses have been slightly edited for clarity and length.

Click here to view the full presentation on-demand.

Question: What technology investments do you think are most essential for health systems to focus on in the next 12-24 months for great patient care?

Michelle Stansbury: We are investing heavily in voice technology. We believe that's where the future is. We are working with different partners right now with how can we utilize voice technologies in the ORs. We stop and think about a surgeon who is performing a procedure and needs information. Wouldn't it be nice if they could just say, "Alexa, please show me the last scan for this patient. Please show me the last labs for this patient." It's an easier way for the clinician not to have to stop and get someone else to pull up the information so we are investing in that technology.

The other thing we are investing in is ambient listening. It's about how do we get our clinicians again back in front of the patients and not necessarily asking the patients questions and then typing them on the computer. We are partnering with another organization that is working with us on how we can prove the technology first, they are in the R&D space in our technology hub, and once that's done bring in the clinicians and let them try that out, and then we'll pilot that.

Q: What advantages do you have over institutions that don't prioritize innovation as much?

MS: The thing I would say is that our leaders understand the strategic approach of innovation. You can't slow down, because the other organizations that were getting into this arena who have never done healthcare before are not slowing down. They aren't stopping. It's important you continue down this path because you don't want to lose momentum and then you're trying to play catch up.

Q: In the past we have spoken about building a culture of innovation at health systems and the mentality of succeeding or failing fast. Could you walk us through the process of making that cultural switch? Has it had an impact on your ability to respond quickly to the pandemic?

MS: The interesting part is that it was a change in mindset. If you have a normal day-to-day, clinicians are able to see patients and it's a normal routine that they've been doing for a long time. One day you're doing that and then the next day it totally changes. The city has shut down and now you have patients that are not able to come in. You have patients that you're taking care of that have COVID, they aren't able to see their family members either. It was a complete mind-shift from the organization to what can we do to be there for the population and the patient that we need to. The way everyone embraced this technology was just awesome and where we might have had people not feeling like they were ready before, they became ready and once they were ready they embraced it very quickly. The response was just overwhelming because they saw how easy it was and how they could still take care of their patients.

The other thing is how do we keep up with the demand from the consumers who were just hungry for knowledge. This is something no one has ever experienced. Unfortunately it was allergy season and some of the same symptoms they were feeling with allergies they were wondering if it was COVID — do they need to get tested and what do they need to worry about. Multiple phone calls are coming in and trying to understand how we can help. That's where our chatbot functionality we had instituted before came in…we were able to use the technology we had instituted to be able to help.

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