Necessity, collaboration drove hospital innovation in 2020

Panelists at Cleveland Clinic and HIMSS’ Patient Experience series discussed how their health systems implemented digital during the pandemic.
By Laura Lovett
02:33 pm
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The year 2020 pushed the notoriously slow healthcare industry to innovate at record speed. Need and collaboration were at the heart of these advancements, according to a panel at Cleveland Clinic and HIMSS’ Patient Experience series

COVID-19 shook healthcare systems and put digital in the forefront. Providence's health system in Washington became the first system to treat a COVID-19 positive patient. The system jumped into gear early, switching up the status quo to add new tech-enable tools. 

“In the context of [COVID-19] we mobilizeD to stand up things quickly, like a coronavirus awareness hub, so folks had the information they needed, knew where they could find the resources. It housed a chatbot that supported folks in symptom assessment and triaging. It also did virtual visits that we scaled up 30X, overnight practically,” Sara Vaezy, chief digital strategy officer at Providence, said during the panel.

“When I say overnight it’s not a hyperbole. It was one or two days. We got remote monitoring in place. We had a massive effort around getting folks to testing sites with capacity.”

These efforts were made possible by collaboration and getting different parties involved, she said. 

“One of the things that was very different from before was the level of clinical and digital integration. So, there is this myth in healthcare I’ve been trying to bust over the last nine months, which is you can either move fast or you can be deeply integrated with the health system if you are coming at it from the innovation lens,” Vaezy said.

“We learned that is absolutely not the case. The more integrated we were, the faster we were able to move.”

On the other side of the country, New York’s Northwell Health was also working to tackle new challenges posed by the pandemic. 

“Yes, it started on the West Coast, but then we got hit so hard, so fast, it felt like a tsunami hitting, where we saw this wave coming, and then all of a sudden it completely trounced us,” Sven Gierlinger, senior vice president and chief experience officer at Northwell Health, said on the panel.

“There were multiple challenges to overcome. And it went so fast that our admissions went up by 100s, and we ended up having 3,500 in-house [COVID-19] patients, and today we have treated over 100,000.”

While the system may have been overwhelmed with patients, the situation also pushed innovation into the next phase. 

“There was no red tape. That got cut so fast. It was people working together. It didn’t matter what their title was or what their role was – clinical, behind-the-scenes – everyone working 24 hours to make that happen,” Gierlinger said. “What I found fascinating was the innovation that took place at the front lines. All we needed to do was to give them the technology.”

That technology included giving patients tablets to communicate with loved ones while in isolation and putting Amazon Echoes next to the bedside for patients to communicate with care teams. 

The Cleveland Clinic meanwhile brought in new technology to help nurses who were subbing in at different specialties. The teams could tap into a device called RNAI, to which they could ask questions about medications that they didn’t use in their typical practice, according to Nancy Albert, associate chief nursing officer of the office of research and innovation at Cleveland Clinic. 

While these tools were all put into place due to the pandemic, the panelists said there are many lessons to be learned in for the future. 

“The beauty of where we are now, though what brought us here [was] under painful circumstances, is we have data, and we can understand the intent and motivation, and behavior and historical performance and data, about outcomes [and] what is more appropriate.” 

The pandemic also showed what can be done in an emergency. 

“When crisis happens, people suddenly are very willing to collaborate together. We have people from inside the clinic, people from outside the clinic, money appeared,” Albert said.

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