HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 54

Houston innovator is putting female health tech entrepreneurs on center stage

Ayse McCracken joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss women in health care and Ignite Madness. Photo courtesy of Ignite

When COVID-19 hit, Ayse McCracken realized that women in health care were going to be disproportionately affected by the pandemic and social isolation. As the founder and board chair of Ignite Healthcare Network, a nonprofit dedicated to connecting and promoting female health tech entrepreneurs, McCracken jumped to provide a virtual way to connect her members.

"With COVID, it has only escalated the importance of our work, so we've elevated our voices through our webinar series," McCracken says on this week's Houston Innovators Podcast.

The webinars featured prominent women in health care discussing leaderships, the effect of the pandemic, and more. Now, Ignite has introduced an entirely new virtual event series focused on startups and, something slightly unexpected: basketball. Ignite Madness begins tomorrow, October 22, and will feature 35 startups. The startups will be narrowed down to seven finalists, who will then pitch at the finals next Thursday, October 29. Click here to register.

"We wanted to do something that was kind of fun and engaging for people while showcasing great entrepreneurs. We didn't want it to just be a pitch event," McCracken says. "When you look at basketball, the similarities were very interesting."

Women make up a significant portion of the fan base for basketball, McCracken says she discovered, and she had the idea of featuring female coaches into the pitch competition. Seven college basketball coaches will be involved in the event as mentors, sharing their own stories.

McCracken says she was strategic when organizing the pitch competition and made sure the competing companies were representative of both the industry's innovation and of diversity. The startups from 13 states across the United States and six other countries — 43 percent of the founders pitching are women of color.

"When we say women, we mean women of all colors and ethnicities," McCracken says. "We have made sure that our leadership team is diverse and inclusive. Everything we do, you'll see women in a very inclusive way."

While you'll have to watch the pitches yourself, McCracken says, the startups are focusing on novel medical devices, cancer detection, and nanotech-based treatment selection platforms, mental health platforms, telehealth solutions, digital solutions for women's health issues like fertility, and so much more.

McCracken shares more about what viewers can expect from the event as well as the important role women in health care play and the evolution of the industry in Houston on the podcast. You can listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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Meet MIA — Houston Methodist's new voice technology assistant. Photo via Getty Images

Hey, MIA. Start surgery.

These are the words Houston doctors are learning to say in the operating rooms, thanks to a first-of-its-kind voice technology developed by the Houston Methodist's Center for Innovation in collaboration with Amazon Web Services. In the same way we use programs like Alexa or Siri to make our everyday tasks easier, the Methodist Intelligent Automation, or MIA, is allowing medical professionals to improve the way they interact both with technology and patients alike.

"There's been a push in the industry for a long time that people sitting behind computers and typing and staring at a computer screen is inadequate," says Houston Methodist Chief Innovation Officer Roberta Schwartz. "There's been a desire to return people back to each other rather than physicians and look at a screen and patients look at a doctor looking at a screen."

Currently in its pilot phase, MIA is working to do just that through two key functions that shift the way medical professionals work in what Schwartz calls the "era of electronic medical records."

The first is through operating room voice commands. Here medical professionals can run through a series or checklists and initiate important actions, such as starting timers or reviewing time of anesthesia, through voice instead of by typing or clicking, which can become cumbersome during lengthy and highly detailed surgeries. Information is displayed on a large 80-inch TV in the operating suite and following surgery all of the data captured is imported into the traditional EMR program. The technology has been prototyped in two Houston Methodist O.R. suites so far and the hub aims to trial it in a simulation surgery by the end of the year.

Additionally, the hub is developing ambient listening technology to be used in a clinical setting with the same goal. Houston Methodist and AWS have partnered with Dallas-based Pariveda to create specialized hardware that (after gaining patient permission) will listen into doctor-patient conversations, transcribe the interaction, and draft a note that is then coded and imported directly into the EMR.

"For EMR the feedback is that it's clunky, it's click-heavy, it's very task oriented," says Josh Sol, who leads digital and clinical innovation for Houston Methodist. "Our goal with the Center for Innovation and this technology hub is to really transform that terminology and bring back this collaboration and the patient-physician relationship by removing the computer but still capturing all the pertinent information."

The ambient listening technology is further off and is currently in user acceptance testing with clinicians.

"They've had some great feedback, whether it's changing how the note is created, changing the look and feel of the application itself," Sol adds. "All feedback is good feedback at this point. So we've taken it in, we prioritize the work, and we continue to improve the application."

And the hub doesn't plan to stop there. Schwartz and Sol agree that the next step for this type of medical technology will be patient facing. They envision that in the near future appointment or surgery prep can be done through Alexa push notifications and medication reminders or follow up assessments could be done via voice applications.

"It's all going to be of tremendous value and it's coming," Schwartz says. "We may be taking the first baby steps, but each one of these voice technologies for our patients is out there on the horizon."

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