Featured Innovator

Meet the Houston Methodist executive at the helm of the new innovation-focused initiative

Roberta Schwartz is leading the innovation initiative at Houston Methodist. Courtesy of Houston Methodist

In an effort to be at the forefront of technology in the health care industry, Houston Methodist recently premiered its Center for Innovation, a group of leaders charged with finding new technologies for the hospital system for patients, physicians, and staff.

Roberta Schwartz — executive vice president, chief innovation officer, and chief executive officer of Houston Methodist Hospital — is at the helm of the initiative. After 17 years at Houston Methodist, Schwartz says she's seen the evolution of tech and is taking note of where the industry is going.

"I think we're an industry that is transforming itself. We're either going to be disrupted or we're going to do the disruption ourselves," Schwartz says. "There's nobody who knows health care better than we do, so if we're going to transform the industry, I want that transformation to come from the inside."

The hospital is instituting new pilot programs for tech advancements across the organization. Schwartz talks about the program and what she's excited about.

InnovationMap: Tell me about Houston Methodist's new Center for Innovation. How did it come about?

Roberta Schwartz: Methodist has always been an innovative institution. As we really saw the onset of a lot of disruption particularly in digital technology, we had already upgraded our electronic medical records. What we saw was with the onslaught of technology in other fields, they were figuring out how to layer pieces on top of our electronic medical record system to make that information usable — more patient friendly and smarter. As we watched these technologies come in, we found that there were a number of us within the organization that were just talking about it all the time and watching how we could really revolutionize the way we worked by embracing these new technologies. So, it probably started about 18 months ago where we found a group of us talking all the time, emailing articles, and figuring out how to hitch up our budgets for new technologies. Our CEO, Marc Boom was so supportive of us. We started meeting every other week for an hour. We called our group the DIOP — the digital innovation obsessed people. That's how it began.

IM: How did DIOP become the Center for Innovation?

RS: We spoke with our CFO and CEO. They said go ahead and provided us with some budget dollars for some pilots. We have now embraced a series of pilots in different areas of need. DIOP became formalized early this year and the Center for Innovation was born. We're now looking at a vision statement of how we can transform almost every aspect of our patient, physician, and administrative experience to make everyone's lives easier and better.

IM: What new innovative efforts are you most excited about introducing to the hospital?

RS: On the patient engagement front, we partner with a platform that breaks up bite-sized content that allows you in text form through — videos or two-way communication — so that we can engage with you before you even make a phone call to our office. For instance, after a visit we can ask you, "how bad is your pain on a scale of 1 to 10," and if you respond "10" we're going to call you before you call the office and have to press one, two, or three on our call board.

A second area we're excited about is a way to text back and forth with your doctor's office. We're changing to a much more modern communication style.

We're also changing how we recruit. We have a chatbot that's available 24/7. We find that we are communicating with night nurses at 1 am asking about benefits. A lot of the people we are trying to recruit are working at night when we don't have HR staff in the office all night long.

We are also looking robotic process automation and trying to take some of the menial work away from our staff so we can get them closer to the bedside or on more tasks.

Methodist went mobile. Our app is online — you can do virtual care, urgent care, or second opinion. Soon, we'll have virtual behavioral health and nutrition. You can also request an appointment.

IM: How is the technology changing the footprint of the hospital?

RS: We want to make Houston Methodist services available all over the country and the world, where it's appropriate. We're going to serve primarily Houston, but if we want to help those institutions in a more rural area, send them to us when appropriate, but for those who can stay at home and in bed, we want to keep them where they are and still provide them with the same level of care.

IM: With the 100-year anniversary of Houston Methodist, what do you hope to put in place for the next 100 years?

RS: We're an organization built on the pillars of success, and we constantly evolve. I can't even tell you where we'll be in a hundred years. I can tell you is that in a few years every type of ease of interaction that you have with Alexa and Amazon, that you have that type of interaction with your hospital.

I'm thrilled to be on this journey, and we're loving it.

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Portions of this interview have been edited.

Myra Davis is responsible for Texas Children's Hospital's technology and innovation — two completely separate things, she says. Courtesy of TCH

A few months ago, Myra Davis got a whole other slew of responsibilities with the addition of just one word to her title: Innovation. The senior vice president and chief information and innovation officer of Texas Children's Hospital oversees a team of individuals not only focused on bringing in new technologies and ideas — but maintaining those processes.

Currently, the hospital is in a transition phase looking to better represent its ongoing innovation, as well as bring in new aspects of innovation. Along with Paola Álvarez-Malo, assistant vice president of strategic and business planning at TCH, Davis is looking to keep TCH at the forefront of hospital innovation and pediatric care.

Davis sat down with InnovationMap to discuss the hospital's transformation process and how, while the work together, technoogy and innovation bring two different things to the table.

InnovationMap: What has been your initial focus since assuming the “innovation” part of your title a few months ago?

Myra Davis: When I was appointed, I stepped back and asked myself how we can go about doing this. I knew it was more than the need for technology. We needed to begin to leverage data and a resource that can be agnostic to the organization to help drive strategy.

IM: Why is being both the innovation officer and the information officer important?

MD: Typically, an innovation officer would pass off a new technology to the information officer and hope that they keep it up. Innovation is more than technology. It's about change, and advocating for change in practices, how we hire, how we look at outcomes, and how we look at data. Innovation is radical disruption of how we do things today. It's a full-time job, and then it backs up into including startups and new companies.

IM: Where are you in the transition process?

MD: We're in a discovery phase, which is almost complete. It will drive an outcome of what the structure should look like for an organization of our size and magnitude, and what additional resources we need to have. For example, today to make an appointment, you need to call and make an appointment at the front desk. But we should be disrupting that process and leverage technology. We should have goals of decreasing calls moving forward. We don't yet have the structure to bring those ideas to the table, but that's where I see it going.

IM: How have you seen innovation become a bigger player in health care?

MD: Health care is always a service organization. We're here to serve patients and help them get better. I think clinically, there's always been a need to stay innovative because it's medicine. Now, we're seeing the need to infuse the behaviors of innovative thinking and acting in our operating models to meet the health care model of service. What I mean by that is the cost of care. The models must change because reimbursements are changing, populations are changing, the demand of patients have changed. When I started, we never had patients not wanting to come in for care. Now, patients are saying they don't want to come in because it costs too much. While there's been a plethora of technologies — we have a host of technology systems — but we're realizing we've only scratched the surface with the opportunities we have.

I often talk about the little "i" versus the big "i" in the word "innovation." The little "i" is leveraging what you have already — that's an innovative game changer. Then there's the big "i" and that's the commercialization of a product or partnering with a startup company and they go public. When we say innovation, most people think of that big "i" but it's a spectrum.

IM: What’s the big technology you see disrupting the health care industry?

MD: I think it's data science. It's a major breakthrough. For prescriptive, predictive, and descriptive reasons, we can't afford to keep doing things ourselves. The market is getting competitive, and we must get to decision making faster. You got to go with the data. You can't be so precise it keeps you from being creative, but you have to start with knowledge.