Houston Methodist's Dr. Roberta Schwartz on innovating out of the staffing crisis

Roberta Schwartz, PhD, executive vice president and chief innovation officer for Houston Methodist, has been taking meetings with nursing executives, a group she said she hadn't spent very much time with before the staffing crisis.

"Appropriately staffing every area of the organization is really hard," she told Becker's Jan. 18. "When our chief strategy officer is asked, 'How do we fix this?' he goes, 'Roberta will have to innovate us out of it.' And while there's some truth in that, we do take that job very seriously."

While capacity issues continue to be a priority for Dr. Schwartz, she and Houston Methodist's leadership team are working to fill the gaps staffing problems have created throughout the pandemic. 

"We're talking about nurse scribes and teleprecepting," she said. "We have Amazon working with us on rounding our nursing floors and getting voice commands for our nurses. We're working on getting Alexa hooked up to our nurse call so that between the alarms and Alexa, we can possibly conduct rounds from a more stationary area and reduce the amount of times nurses have to walk in a room to get patients everything they need, and they can monitor them from more centralized areas. We're talking about all kinds of things that if you had asked me a year ago, I would've said, 'That's not going to be on the top of my agenda.'" 

Though the current COVID-19 surge and omicron variant has created challenges for the health system, Dr. Schwartz said there has been a notable difference from previous surges thanks to predictive analytics. 

"I'm amazed at how far we've come. The sophistication of even the data set that we have on a longitudinal set of COVID patients is something that will start to build into predictive analytics, like which types of drugs will help which types of patients, which types of patients we need to do something about much faster, [which types] will truly benefit from [extracorporeal membrane oxygenation], as well as watching our transplant group get much more sophisticated about which recovering patients will benefit from a transplant is pretty amazing to me," she said.

In 2021, Dr. Schwartz shared with Becker's that her top priority was to disrupt every area of Houston Methodist with digital technology. As for how that's going she said, "Doing it, I feel like the person who paints the Brooklyn Bridge. You start at one side, you get to the other side, and by the time you're done, you get to start the whole process again because there will be new technologies that will come out that will allow me to disrupt my disruptions."

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