'We are trying to disrupt our business in every aspect': Q&A with Houston Methodist's innovation chief

Roberta Schwartz, PhD, is executive vice president and chief innovation officer at Houston Methodist Hospital, the No. 1 hospital in Texas, according to U.S. News & World Report. Ms. Schwartz spoke with Becker's about the latest healthcare technology affecting her organization.

Interview has been edited lightly for clarity.

Question: What are some of the biggest challenges you faced as Houston Methodist's CIO during the pandemic?

Dr. Roberta Schwartz: One of the biggest strains was being able to very quickly expand or contract our capacity depending on the needs of the community. And that meant that you really had to be able to look at alternative locations to be able to see patients, whether that was virtual, or remotely monitor people who couldn't come into the healthcare environment for periods of time. It also meant being able to get very creative with the way you saw and took care of patients in the hospital, as we were trying to make sure that we treated all of our COVID-19 and other patients without co-mingling, or being able to take care of patients without having tons of people going in and out of rooms all of the time.

Q: What were some of your biggest accomplishments as CIO this last year? 

RS: I think what I'm the most proud of is the fact that we basically had so much of the foundational technology already in place and ready to go, having been tested and in many cases in great shape before the pandemic happened so that the move to alternate ways of seeing patients, alternate ways to monitor patients — the technology was already there. We made an almost instantaneous switch to things like virtual physician visits, virtual intensive care units, you name it. We feel very lucky. I think that was the thing that I'm the most proud of; that we brought in almost no new technology because it was already in place. 

Q: What projects are you working on as you see Houston Methodist out of the pandemic? 

RS: One of my favorite projects of this year has been the move to a new system, Intelligent Locations, to track people, places and things. This new system can really do lots of different tracking for us. In addition to that, we are starting to work on voice technology and move away from touch to voice with the help of Amazon Web Services. We are also starting to work much more with artificial intelligence and predictive analytics with a variety of different companies. 

Q: What are your priorities for 2021? 

RS: Our priority has been to disrupt every area of our organization, and change the way we work into more of a digital technology way of working. So what we like is the fact that we've gone live with a new system in our human resources department that makes it much easier to identify and bring applicants into the organization. We went live with a revenue cycle product that is light years ahead of where we were, and digitizes much of our revenue cycle interfaces for our customers and the way that we've worked. I'm very proud of the fact that for us, it's not just about patient-facing technologies, which are incredibly important, but also recognizing that we are trying to disrupt our business in every aspect. So I feel every aspect of our organization was touched a little bit by the innovation team.

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