'This innovation was a home run!': Top tech projects for 8 systems

Margins remain tight for most hospitals and health systems across the U.S., but they're still investing in technology to improve efficiency and support better patient care.

C-suite executives are taking a critical eye to any technology spend, focusing on applications and partnerships that will support the clinical workforce, automate administrative tasks and expand access to care through virtual platforms. They're also looking upstream at opportunities to use artificial intelligence and machine learning to gather better insights into operational efficiency and patient care.

Which investments yielded the best results in the last year? Eight health system leaders shared with Becker's the most needle-moving projects and initiatives from 2023.

David Lubarsky, MD. CEO and Vice Chancellor of Human Health Sciences at UC Davis Health (Sacramento, Calif.): Last October, all six University of California Health locations joined forces to launch ValidAI - an open innovation collective for healthcare organizations of all sizes to learn from each other the science of validating, executing, and creating value from generative AI. In a few months, it has become the largest member-led collective in the U.S. focused on Generative AI with 50+ members.

Generative AI is creating a problem of plenty, as now any high school student can build an algorithm, and healthcare organizations need to find what can provide the most value. This is even more pressing in today's environment where many health systems cannot just hire AI engineers like Google/Microsoft, or well-funded start-ups. Few organizations have the time, skill or resources to ride the coming tsunami wave of Generative AI, but working together we can learn how to use it to create value for our patients, clinicians, scientists and employees.

J.P. Gallagher. President and CEO of Endeavor Health (Evanston, Ill.): Through natural language processing, we are tapping into the power of artificial intelligence to mine our data, identify social determinants of health and feed that information back to our clinical teams at the point of care. We know that social determinants of health are among the biggest factors driving better health outcomes and promoting wellness in our communities.

At the same time, we traditionally have limited knowledge about what these uniquely are for our patients because the vast majority of our data is in the form of unstructured clinical notes and a significant amount of time spent with patients is focused on treating an acute problem. Having this powerful knowledge about what is needed to treat the whole patient also allows us to connect them with additional support in their community like those organizations that are supported by our community investment fund.

We are also building on our leadership in personalized medicine with the introduction of Polygenic Risk Scores, which provides a window into patients' inherited risk of developing a broad range of conditions like cancer, diabetes or cardiovascular disease. Family history is an important indicator, but not everyone knows their family's medical history, and the information can be fragmented or incomplete. With the information provided through PRS testing, patients can be even more proactive about their healthcare through tailored screening, prevention and lifestyle changes.

David Sylvan. Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer of University Hospitals (Cleveland); President of UH Ventures: Earlier last year UH invested in and integrated a technology designed to remove or minimize financial barriers to care. The company, Tel-Aviv based TailorMed, uses its proprietary technology suite to ingest all of the necessary data to investigate available benefits; stratify the financial risks, and in near real time facilitate electronic benefits verification as well as the quantification of projected out-of-pocket expenses for the patient. The software then matches the patients with any available assistance, which not only accelerates access to needed care, but our ability to recoup some of the associated expense load. Truly a win-win for our most vulnerable patients and our system.

Brad Reimer. Chief Information Officer of Sanford Health (Sioux Falls, S.D.): At Sanford Health, we are investing in new technologies to address staffing shortages and create a more meaningful experience for our teams. For example, over the last year, we launched a 70-plus room AI-powered "smart hospital" pilot to reduce administrative burdens for our nursing staff, increase productivity and improve patient care quality. Not only is this pilot moving the needle in these important areas, but it has also sparked a conversation around innovation and technology at the bedside like we've never seen – a win-win for our teams and our patients.

Robert Calway. President and CEO of New England Life Care (Scarborough, Maine): We have been seeking opportunities to introduce artificial intelligence and robotic process automation applications to improve efficiency, quality, and productivity. We introduced an RPA process that automated the import of home infusion pharmacy orders from the hospital post-acute referral process. This improvement significantly reduced labor demands for the manual re-entry of previously faxed orders, dramatically reduced errors associated with transcription, thereby improving patient safety, and increased the productivity of staff who previously were responsible for this "mundane" but important activity. This innovation was a home run!

Cyril Philip. Vice President of Digital Ventures of Bon Secours Mercy Health (Cincinnati): Bon Secours Mercy Health is harnessing the transformative power of Conversational AI to help patients navigate the healthcare system. In October 2023, we launched Catherine™, a personal, digital healthcare assistant. Named after Catherine MacAuley, who founded the Sisters of Mercy in Dublin in 1831, this platform was created to bring their vision and proactive outreach to the modern era. In her initial pilot, Bon Secours Mercy Health chose to focus Catherine’s abilities on the dementia journey, providing support and aid to caregivers navigating this incurable illness. We are exploring expanding Catherine across additional health journeys in 2024, including MSK, cardiovascular, and health benefits navigation.

James Forrester. Chief Transformation Officer and Chief Information Officer of University of Rochester Medical Center (N.Y.): The most needle moving innovation that we have rolled out at URMC in the past year is ambient digital scribe technology. We started with a small pilot in our orthopedics department that has proven successful. The technology makes a notable difference for providers both from provider satisfaction and productivity perspectives. The patient experience is enhanced by increasing the amount of time providers spend interacting with the patients. Our plans are to move into a broader pilot in other ambulatory settings with an expectation that this technology will advance and mature to support other members of the care team including nursing. We also expect the setting to expand beyond ambulatory medicine to include uses such as triage and patient discharge.

Ronald Place, MD. President and CEO of Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center (Sioux Falls, S.D.): In May of 2023, Avera launched virtual patient monitoring to assist our bedside care teams with individuals needing intense monitoring. In the first eight months of the program, virtual monitors redirected patients more than 11,000 times resulting in a 33% reduction in falls. Additionally, patients were virtually monitored for more than 51,000 hours, equating to more than 30 full time equivalent staff hours that would have been spent providing one-on-one observations. This pioneering technology uses artificial intelligence to establish a baseline – and ultimately recoups time to focus on higher value work, leading to increased staff satisfaction while reducing falls.

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