This Week Health
April 8, 2022

Approaching Innovation at Houston Methodist with VP Michelle Stansbury

Innovation is not new for Houston Methodist; in fact, it is the heart of the health system to innovate beyond its research institute. Vice President, Innovation and IT Applications, Michelle Stansbury, gave a deep dive into how their health system approaches innovation.

DIOP and the Beginning of Innovation at Houston Methodist

Headshot of Michelle Stansbury, VP of Innovation at Houston Methodist

Michelle Stansbury, VP of Innovation at Houston Methodist

According to Stansbury, the path to the system's innovation began four years ago when a small group discussed disruptors coming into healthcare. Later known as DIOP (Digital Innovation Obsessed People), this group came together to share stories about ways to do things without disruptors.

"It quickly became obvious to us that we were either going to let these outside influencers disrupt our business, or we were going to do it to ourselves," she explained.

The DIOP group researched ways to allow consumers and patients healthcare access however they wished rather than how health systems wanted to give it to them.

Today, they are the core group representing Houston Methodist's Center for Innovation. This is a place where various departments within the health system look at creating efficiencies for healthcare services and clinicians.

When looking for efficiencies, the team broke it down into areas for patients, consumers, employees, and physicians, Stansbury shared.

Piloting Within the Center for Innovation

Houston Methodist has a diverse group in its innovation center, which has allowed them look across the entire organization for potential solutions. For Stansbury and her team, the main focus continues to be the problems the hospital faces. In weekly meetings, they work to find specific pilot solutions.

The Center for Innovation handles pilot solutions, as they do not operationalize solutions across the organization. According to Stansbury, the key to launching a pilot is a solid ROI. If the pilot is successful, it will graduate and be quickly operationalized.

"The beauty of that group is that we have representation across our organization and [we] know exactly what problems we're trying to solve," she said.

“Succeed Fast or Fail Fast”

In the innovation process, failure is inevitable. At Houston Methodist, Stansbury explained how they follow a motto contrary to old ways of thinking: succeed fast or fail fast.

If a potential solution is not working, they fail it. From it, Stansbury emphasized the need to understand why it failed. This ensures they have learned a lesson from the failure as they continue searching for a viable solution.

"That [failure] has been one of the key things that I think for any healthcare institution that has really tried to innovate; don't be afraid to fail because that's all part of innovating," she said.

Focusing on Internal Innovation

While other health systems focus on commercializing their solutions, the focus for Houston Methodist is internal innovation for clinicians, patients, and the community.

"We've had other individuals that ask us about that. For us, it's really about our patients, our clinicians, our health system. That's what we want to remain focused on," she elaborated.

Although there have been potential joint ventures, the organization finds they would take away from what the goal is for the health system.

"Our overall brand within the Houston and surrounding community is very high. We're not out to be the cheapest hospital, but we are out to provide the best quality, safety, care, and innovative services to our community and the patients we serve," she said.

Innovation at Houston Methodist Amid the Pandemic

During the pandemic, Stansbury attributed two key areas that were immediately helpful: virtual medicine and virtual ICU. While there were plans for expansion projects, the pandemic pushed for quicker innovation.Logo for Houston Methodist Center for Innovation

"When the pandemic hit, we knew that virtual medicine was going to be absolutely necessary, especially when we shut down all of our clinics," she said.

Beginning with their technology hub, Stansbury and her team took over a nursing unit to create an R&D space. When the pandemic hit, the team focused its energies on training 600 physicians for virtual visits within two weeks.

With plans to expand a virtual ICU within a year and a half, the innovation team put it together for the pandemic within six months. The ICU was up in Houston Methodist's community hospitals, and a virtualized command center was developed to monitor patients.

In the hospital's physical COVID-19 units, the innovation department quickly provided iPads in each room for virtual visits. This also made it possible for patients to communicate with family members who could not visit them.

Innovating MyChart to Match Patient Preferences

After finding that patients prefer text communications rather than logging into MyChart, the health system began to work with Caldwell Health. It is now their preferred mode of patient communication, allowing bi-directional communications.

In the future, the hospital will expand into two products: WELL Health and CareSense. Implemented at small institutions, both are looking for a big health system to further develop the product, Stansbury explained.

CareSense allows institutions to communicate with a patient's preference regarding information pre- and post-visits. Put together in bite-size pieces of information, Stansbury sees a significant level of patient adherence to directions. High patient satisfaction rates simultaneously decreased readmissions and length of stays.

WELL Health is part of Houston Methodist's expansion for discharge orders. The Center for Innovation is starting a pilot that sends text notifications with bite-size pieces of information. It also allows patients a place to ask questions.

According to Stansbury, the team is looking at potential solutions with an organization providing text-based healthcare.

Consumers are Attracted to Convenience

Corporations like Walgreens, Walmart, and CVS attract consumers because of convenience, Stansbury explained.

"It's all about convenience. We are a society that is so busy that we cram so much in our daily lives, that to stop and think about having to make a phone call, to make a doctor's appointment," she said.

In a society such as this, Stansbury and the innovation team look for ways to reduce the time needed to coordinate healthcare. The goal is to make going to Houston Methodist a convenient and easy choice.

Innovation for the Clinician

One of the biggest areas of focus for the hospital is voice.

"We believe is kind of the future of healthcare is voice," she said.

Looking at voice vendor solutions within the full spectrum of care, the team did not find one that fully met their goals. Since then, the Center for Innovation has had a pilot initiative for ambient listening.

Houston Methodist is co-developing with AWS to modify the ambient listening pilot currently in eight of their clinics. This product offers something unlike any other so far--case coding. When clinicians are finished with a patient, they can simply check the notes were captured correctly and sign off for them.

Ambient listening mixed with coding capabilities allows for greater efficiency for clinicians. It is currently in learning mode, according to Stansbury.

New Levels of Efficiency Can Help as Labor Shortages Worsen

Working with CNOs within the organization, Stansbury knows that creating efficiencies is their number one priority. The innovation team is looking at solutions that can create these efficiencies, attract nursing staff, and retain them.

Clinicians are tired after dealing with the pandemic, which means decreasing workload burdens are a priority for Houston Methodist. Recent changes to the EMR through voice is one example of innovation aimed at accomplishing this desire.


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