Community Hospital Innovation: How 3 Innovative Community Hospitals Are Improving Care Delivery

It's not just large, multi-state systems that innovate.

Community hospitals around the country are developing ways to provide the best, most patient-centered care to the populations they serve.

The following three hospitals have tapped into available technology and their own staffs to develop fresh ideas and an overall culture of innovation.

Longmont (Colo.) United Hospital
Palm vein scanning technology to improve patient safety and the patient experience

The idea to implement palm vein scanning technology, like most innovation at Longmont United Hospital, came as a response to an identified opportunity to improve care delivery at the hospital and its affiliated clinics.

"Initially, we were looking at ways to expedite the check-in process," says Michael Jefferies, vice president of information services at Longmont United Hospital. The hospital was planning on implementing kiosks similar to those found at airport check-in counters until Mr. Jefferies and his team began learning more about palm vein scanning technology.

Palm vein scanners are able to identify patients based on each person's unique palm vein pattern. Longmont United Hospital quickly realized this technology could solve a number of other problems as well, such as patients with the same demographic information.

"We have a number of patients with the same name and the same birthday, so telling those patients apart can be a challenge," says Mr. Jefferies. "This gives us a way to positively identify a patient and eliminate duplicated or shared patient records."  

The hospital plans to finish the implementation of 20 scanners at the hospital and in its four affiliated clinics by mid-July.

The palm vein scanners are not the first time Longmont United Hospital has used technology to improve the care delivery process — the hospital has also implemented solutions around automated pricing updates and medication barcodes to make medication administration safer. Mr. Jefferies credits the information systems team with constantly thinking of new solutions and bringing those ideas to management.

"We're really fortunate at our location to have access to some of the best talent in the country," he says. "And we rely a lot on individuals within the IS team to bring these solutions forward…they've had some really impressive ideas."

 Memorial Hospital of South Bend (Ind.)/ Beacon Health System
Creating (and spreading) a culture of innovation

Diane Stover-Hopkins recalls 15 years ago, healthcare consultant and futurist Leland Kaiser gave Memorial Hospital of South Bend CEO Philip Newbold course-changing advice on what to do when it felt the hospital's financial and operational future was too dependent on the whim of insurers:

"He said, 'If you want less people in charge of your future, the way to do that is to invent your own,'" she says.

Mr. Newbold took the advice to heart. He tasked Ms. Stover-Hopkins, then the hospital's chief marketing officer, to find out how other hospitals and health systems were changing the game. After a week of searching, she hadn't found any other healthcare organizations that had the focus on innovation Mr. Newbold was after.

So she started looking outside healthcare. Whirlpool, headquartered in nearby Benton Harbor, Mich., agreed to give Memorial leaders an in-depth look at the company's innovation strategy during a seven-hour visit. "They really shared years of their study and practice around innovation and innovation strategy; it was such a blessing," says Ms. Stover-Hopkins. The insight gained from the Whirlpool visit prompted visits to other companies, and Memorial executives have now been on more than 60 Inno-Visits to companies ranging from Microsoft to Proctor and Gamble, learning how to develop and sustain a culture of innovation.

Soon after the visits began, Mr. Newbold convinced the hospital board to dedicate 1 percent of the hospital's annual revenue to innovation, making Memorial the first community hospital with a dedicated research and development budget, she says.

Since 1999, Mr. Newbold's focus on innovation and the dedicated budget allotment have led to several innovative ways to improve care delivery. One of Ms. Stover-Hopkins' favorite examples is the "Red Zone," a separate room where nurses can prepare medications without distractions, developed, tested and refined by an innovation work team. The focus on innovation has also led to a patient-centric heart and vascular center developed with heavy use of human centered design and observational research methods.

The best result of the R&D budget and the site visits, however, has been the transformation of innovation "from an initiative to an instinct" throughout the hospital, says Ms. Stover-Hopkins.

The successful development of this culture of innovation led other hospitals and health systems from around the country to request Inno-Visits at Memorial. To meet demand, the hospital created the Innovation Café, a workshop space inside an abandoned café near the hospital's campus where representatives from other organizations could come and learn from Memorial leaders. In 2011, Beacon Health System, the new parent company of Memorial following a merger with Elkhart (Ind.) General Hospital, opened the Pfeil Innovation Center to host more classes and workshops and bring in outside experts.

A focus on innovation has always been the best approach to an uncertain industry future, says Ms. Stover-Hopkins, now the health system's innovation strategy consultant. "Since you don't know what the new problems will be, then what you have to do is build a workforce of more innovative problem-solvers," she says. "Then it doesn't matter what the government or the insurers decide, you'll have the skill sets to stretch your thinking and apply a repeatable, innovative process to whatever comes our way."

"It's the best chance of being successful in the future," she says.

Northern Westchester Hospital (Mount Kisco, N.Y.)
Customized bedside tablets for improved patient engagement

Northern Westchester Hospital was one of the first five hospitals in the country, and the first in the state of New York, to be recognized as a Designated Planetree Patient-Centered Care Hospital with Distinction.

"So part of our mission as a Planetree-designated hospital is to look at innovations and models that allow for enhanced patient engagement throughout the patient experience; especially those that improve patient education and enable patients to be an active participant in their plan of care," says Maria Hale, the hospital's vice president of patient advocacy and patient-centered support services.

NWH officials had all realized patients' growing use of the Internet and mobile devices to research health information. It was the vision of President and CEO Joel Seligman to provide patients with tablets at their bedside that could be used to access their personal health information along with other educational resources, says Ms. Hale.

"Our CEO was the one who said how valuable it would be for patients to have a device near their bed that at the touch of a button would give them further understanding into their condition and plan of care along with information they can take with them to help them continue on the road to recovery," she says.

Mr. Seligman's idea for a bedside tablet was shared with the hospital's Patient and Family Advisory Council which led to the creation of patient focus groups to help the hospital create the most useful tool for patients. Patients across demographics reported they wanted an easy-to-use device that would display information about the providers on their care team, certain lab tests, vitals and the medication being administered, including what the drug is for and possible side effects.

So that's what the hospital created — a tablet with large, identifiable icons that provides patients with a medication list, their estimated discharge time, a list of post-discharge care considerations and their vitals and lab results graphically displayed in a stoplight light format that gives patients an at-a-glance understanding of what this information means.

The tablet also allows patients to connect with their care providers or other professionals such as the hospital's chaplain or health librarian. There's also an interface where patients can request their meal tray be removed or make other requests, like for fresh towels or room temperature control. The care team also uses the tablets to point patients toward additional education about their condition and recovery goals.

Patients can also send compliments to physicians, nurses and other staff members, which, according to Ms. Hale, has been a positive experience for all involved. "[Patients] love sending notes to staff saying, ‘Thank you for taking such great care of me today,' and then the poignant messages are shared with the team," she says.

The tablet's functionalities are constantly being updated based on patient feedback, says Ms. Hale. For example, a number of patients had requested the ability to view their daily schedule of tests and procedures, which was recently incorporated into the tablets. But what's truly innovative about the tablet is the way the medical information is provided to the patient – essentially translated from 'medical speak' to very user-friendly, patient-centered terminology that helps to empower the patient. Having information displayed in this manner augments the education being provided by the clinical team at the bedside and makes it actionable for the patient.

"Patients have access to information in real time and at a time when they are ready to receive it. That's what's revolutionary," says Ms. Hale. And by placing the tablets at the bedside, patients and their care partners are empowered to look up information themselves or reach out proactively to clinicians and other resources.  

"This unique device is helping patients be a true partner in their healthcare," she says.

More Articles on Innovation:

Health IT Tech Hubs Growing in Chicago, Miami
The $9B Company About to Revolutionize Healthcare, And You've Probably Never Heard of It
Dartmouth-Hitchcock to Launch Virtual Clinic

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