From 'hospital room of the future' to remote mental health monitoring, innovation chiefs share top tech ideas

Health system chief innovation officers literally have the word "innovation" in their titles — and not for nothing. These executives develop and sometimes commercialize technologies that treat patients in their hospitals and beyond.

A virtual autism assessment and a medication tracking tool are among the services and products innovation chiefs recently told Becker's they're most proud of.

Note: Some of their responses have been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

Stefan Agamanolis, PhD, Chief Innovation Officer of Akron (Ohio) Children's Hospital: Opioid reduction is a hot topic across healthcare, and more clinicians have been recommending the practice of alternating acetaminophen and ibuprofen as an effective way to control pain. We commercialized an ultra-simple tracking aid called the Comfort Control Clock that makes it simpler for patients to follow this protocol successfully and makes it easier for clinicians to teach it rapidly.

Kolaleh Eskandanian, PhD, Vice President and Chief Innovation Officer of Children's National Hospital (Washington, D.C.): At Children's National, we define innovation as the process of translating healthcare novelties and life science discoveries to patients and families — from any source — whether our intention is to improve care delivery in our own hospital or to export innovation for commercialization and societal benefit.

In this context, I am most proud of the establishment of the National Capital Consortium for Pediatric Device Innovation, an FDA-funded initiative in which I am the contact principal investigator. Thanks to the FDA's pediatric device consortia grant program, we were challenged to source, scout and fund the best pediatric device projects, with the condition that 75 percent of direct funding be allocated to entities outside our own consortium. This requirement afforded the opportunity to open our innovation infrastructure to external projects and startup companies with the goal of expediting the time to market for the much-needed pediatric medical devices.

For the past nine years, we have provided technical assistance to over 250 device projects of which about 50 received direct funding of up to $50,000, and six of the portfolio companies landed a successful exit via acquisition. This is a remarkable return on federal dollars and a demonstration that careful selection of promising technologies and allocation of strategic seed funding is imperative to accelerating innovation.

Thomas Graham, MD, Chief Innovation and Transformation Officer of Kettering (Ohio) Health: I am actually most proud of pioneering the concept of practicing innovation as a discipline within not-for-profit health systems. By introducing a process-orientation, metrics-driven approach, we elevated the importance of ideas, perpetuated a creative culture and ultimately demonstrated how innovation thrives at the intersection of knowledge domains by sharing our validated instruments and approaches with other institutions — inside and outside of healthcare — in an innovation alliance. It was the dedicated infrastructure that allowed the device, drug, digital and delivery advances to become realities.

Omkar Kulkarni, Chief Digital Transformation Officer and Chief Innovation Officer of Children's Hospital Los Angeles: The future of virtual care will involve asynchronous connections between providers and patients. One of our most exciting innovations in 2021 was the launch of our Virtual Autism Assessment, a product designed to help families in California get answers regarding their child's behavior in a convenient, consumer-centric manner. When it comes to autism, timing is everything. Early interventions can often help stop or even reverse the symptoms and challenges associated with autism spectrum disorder. The wait time for an autism screening at healthcare centers across the country can be several weeks to months, and centers are often miles away from home.

At Children's Hospital Los Angeles, we have a team of pediatric specialists with expertise in screening, diagnosing and treating autism spectrum disorder. Families are able to upload videos into the Virtual Autism Assessment tool, and our expert clinicians are able to diagnose or rule out autism spectrum disorder asynchronously. Our experts will then prepare a report of their recommendations for the families, all within seven to 10 business days of video submission. CHLA's Virtual Autism Assessment gives families the peace of mind of receiving answers quickly and efficiently from experts at the largest provider of care for children in Los Angeles County, and we have seen firsthand the impact this tool has had on the lives of families and children in our community.

Jason Swoboda, Director of Innovation for Tampa (Fla.) General Hospital: One of Tampa General Hospital's many innovations of which I'm particularly proud is its Room of the Future. It's not just the physical room itself, but the methodologies used to kickstart the effort and the co-development partner ecosystem that we created as a result. 

For TGH, the Room of the Future is a journey and a mindset — in addition to a physical space. Technically, the Room of the Future will never be completed. TGH will continue to iterate on how TGH provides care for those we serve. The Room of the Future initiatives which prove their value propositions become the blueprint for expansion to other appropriate areas in the hospital.

The foundation of the Room of the Future was based on a team of patients, partners and various cross-functional team members and staff. We utilized design-thinking methods and challenged how to simultaneously improve quality of care, team member and patient satisfaction and operational efficiency. Several initiatives were created based on the design sessions.

One such example is an interactive electronic hallway display. The display automatically updates information from the electronic medical record and presents it in a manner that both clinical and nonclinical individuals can understand. This not only improves communication between team members but also with anyone entering the room. It eliminates confusion about what individuals need to do before and after entering.

Richard Zane, MD, Chief Innovation Officer of UCHealth (Aurora, Colo.): The innovation we are most proud of at UCHealth is building a culture of continuous innovation: adopting digital health and embracing change to provide the best care for our patients. We have worked hard to seamlessly integrate virtual and digital care with more traditional in-person care, using technology to improve asynchronous communication and passive data collection; monitoring patients in real time, including symptoms; and embedding prescriptive intelligence to create a continuous and supportive environment for our patients across all their care teams.

A recent example of our commitment to innovation is UCHealth's partnership with Health Rhythms, which integrates behavioral health into our remote patient-monitoring strategy. The mobile application monitors patients at risk for mental health crises or deterioration by detecting changes in baseline activity, engagement and sleep rhythms. By recognizing rhythm aberrancy indicative of a potential crisis, we can monitor patients in real time and allow for interventions much more quickly than if the patient had to wait for an appointment or traditional communication. The very first week the program was in use, we were able to detect and intervene with an acutely suicidal patient, whose symptoms rapidly deteriorated, even though they were asymptomatic at an in-person visit the day before.

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