Houston-based NurseDash is the Uber of staffing nursing shifts in medical facilities. Photo via nursedash.com

It's no secret that there's a shortage of nurses nationwide — and in Houston, the situation is no different. As baby boomers reach old age, the need for healthcare is only becoming more dire. Most facilities see a turnover rate of between 30 and 180 percent among nurses, leaving jobs open and shifts in need of being covered. Ideal staffing is a 5:1 patient-to-nurse ratio, but many sites are getting by with more like 8:1.

The solution for most healthcare facilities, whether they're hospitals, doctors offices or nursing homes, is to contact agencies to fill those spots. But agencies charge a high percentage for placement and lack transparency, says Andy Chen, former CFO for Nobilis Health Corporation. That's why he and Jakob Kohl created their app, NurseDash.

"Historically, some local agencies will promise you that they'll have somebody for you at 7 a.m. tomorrow, then start calling their people. They promise they'll send somebody, but they don't even know who it is," says Chen.

"The other thing is [facilities] would typically call multiple agencies so you're kind of on the hook with first-come-first-serve basis. And they were incentivized to say, 'Yes I've got somebody for you,' then find the person rather than finding the right candidate for that particular shift," adds Kohl, a principal at Everwise Healthcare and an attorney.

The two men were convinced that they could do better. They wanted to make sure that high-quality, accredited nurses could match with the medical sites where they were the perfect fit, for shifts that worked for both of them. NurseDash is the platform that makes the idea a reality.

NurseDash launched in 2017 and is the product of Belgian designers and developers in Russia. The project manager for the app is in New York, but official headquarters in Houston's Galleria area, where a staff of five works with the team spread out around the world.

Since its debut, NurseDash has attracted 40 facilities in Houston, including hospitals, surgery centers, and senior living, and about 400 nurses. Chen says he isn't sure just what to call his technology yet, but compares it to the ride hailing of Uber or Lyft and calls it "a virtual bulletin board."

The healthcare site posts shifts that it needs to fill. Nurses who fit the requirements see the availability and can choose what suits their schedules, then apply within the app. Everything takes place within the app, including payment and asking questions about the job. Nurses have already been vetted before they're able to apply, with comprehensive credentialing including license checks and drug screenings. The percentage that NurseDash takes from the transaction is about 30 percent less than an agency would take, says Kohl.

It's clear why medical facilities need such a service, but how does it benefit the nurses? It depends on where they are in their careers. Experienced nurses can pick up extra shifts on top of their full-time jobs, if they so desire. Practitioners returning to the game after having children can find times that work with their busy schedules. And fledgling nurses can use the opportunities to get a foot in the door at hospitals where they'd like to work full-time someday.

"They can work on their schedule, on their terms," says Kohl.

NurseDash has already expanded beyond Houston to northeast Ohio, which the founders say has a similar competitive dynamic to the Houston market. The next goal is to hit the rest of the top 10 largest cities in the United States. The next markets, says Kohl, will roll out at the request of major hospitals with locations both in Houston and those other cities. Ultimately, the goal is to become the go-to marketplace for nurses across the country. One shift at a time, NurseDash is making healthcare better.

Patients about to undergo brain surgery can use VR to see what their surgeon is about to do to their brain. Courtesy of Methodist

5 new technologies enhancing health care at Houston Methodist

game changers

While hospital systems might have a reputation for being slow adaptors to new technologies, Houston Methodist is single-handedly trying to change that theory. From artificial intelligence to virtual reality, the hospital system is making big moves innovating and introducing cutting edge tools and systems.

Houston Methodist's Center for Innovation, which has really developed in the past few months, is lead by Roberta Schwartz — executive vice president, chief innovation officer, and chief executive officer of Houston Methodist Hospital. She says Methodist has always lead the way within health care innovation in Houston.

"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 tells InnovationMap in a previous interview. "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."

Here are five different new programs the hospital has introduced to enhance patient care.

An automated recruiting tool named Mia

Photo via houstonmethodistcareers.org

Hospital recruiting has always posed a problem for a few reasons, but one challenge has been the lack of HR resources available at all hours of the day or night. To help rectify this issue, Methodist has introduced Mia, a 24/7 chatbot that can answer HR questions from potential applicants.

"We find that we are communicating with night nurses at 1 am asking about benefits," Schwartz says. 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."

Methodist is one of five in the country to launch the recruiting chatbot. The initial pilot is focused on recruiting medical surgical nurses and medical assistants. In just four months, Mia has chatted with over 800 prospective employees resulting in over 20 hires.

Pre- and post-op automated information

Photo via caresense.com

A crucial time for patients is immediately before and after surgeries or procedures, but doctors and medical staff usually has the most trouble keeping track of patients during these times.

CareSense automated program offers reminders and monitoring questions that better connects the patients with the hospital. In the three months the pilot has been running, nearly 500 Houston Methodist surgical patients reported extremely high satisfaction and over 75 percent of patients are engaged with the program.

Currently, CareSense works with Houston Methodist patients undergoing certain total joint replacement, colorectal, spine, and cardiac procedures. The technology can send texts, emails, website, and video links before and after the procedure. Early data has seen a reduction in missed appointments, lower surgical cancellations, and increased patient compliance. Up next is an expansion into various clinical areas, including mental health, interventional radiology, and oncology.

Virtual reality technology for brain surgeries

Patients about to undergo brain surgery can use VR to see what their surgeon is about to do to their brain. Courtesy of Methodist

Houston Methodist Hospital is channeling a Magic School Bus episode with new VR technology that allows neurosurgical patients and their family members to essentially walk through their brains ahead of their surgeries.

The patient wears a virtual reality headset and gets a 360 degree view of their brain, and the neurosurgeon can walk the patient through the surgery process. According to a release from Houston Methodist, the technology is the first of its kind that combines fighter jet flight simulation with patients' anatomy scans from MRI, CT, and/or DTI processes to make a 3D model.

Virtual urgent care

Screenshot via App Store

Houston Methodist recently went mobile, Schwartz says. About 77 percent of patients are interested in virtual access to physicians, according to the Advisory Board's 2017 Virtual Visits Consumer Choice Survey that included over 5,000 patients across the country — and 19 percent of patients have already engaged with doctors virtually.

"We live in a technology-driven age where people want easy access to services and they are open to seeing a provider via video. With virtual urgent care, a patient can get help for minor illnesses from the comfort of their own home," says Schwartz in a release.

The new MyMethodist app provides a platform for patients to contact doctors virtually, as well as medical records, test results, bill payments, prescription services and more. Some of the conditions included in virtual treatment are cold/flu symptoms, pink eye, skin infections/rash, allergies, cough/fever/headache, and upper respiratory infections.

Scheduling tool partnership with Next Level Urgent Care and Blockit

Photo via nextlevelurgentcare.com

In an emergency situation, a patient might opt for an urgent care center over a hospital visit. Houston Methodist wants to connect the dots in that case in order to best serve its patients. A partnership between Blockit, Next Level Urgent Care, and Methodist has emerged to allow for easier access to follow-up appointments with orthopedic specialty physicians, and an urgent care patient might leave the facility with his or her follow-up visit already scheduled. In the pilot program's first five months into this pilot, over 120 urgent care patients engaged with the program and made follow up appointments from the facility.


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Houston health and wellness startup uses money as a motivator for lifestyle changes

health is wealth

Everything is different when money is on the line, and a Houston startup is using financial incentives as a motivator for its users to make smart, healthy lifestyle changes to enhance their wellness.

Healthiby, a cost-effective wellness program, is changing the game of health solutions by addressing chronic and pre-chronic conditions through innovative prevention and management methods, all incentivized by both short-term and long-term financial benefits.

"Healthiby incentivizes and empowers people to achieve better health outcomes in a team context," says Mary Beth Snodgrass, managing director and co-founder. "We're different from other wellness solutions because we're focused on changing habits, as well as incentivizing better health outcomes, providing both immediate and long-term rewards."

The company launched in May 2019 and is still in its pilot stage. Snodgrass and co-founder Dr. Tristan Hartzell, a surgeon based in Nebraska, have remained committed to their foundational concept for their startup, which is to empower people on their wellness journeys and spread knowledge about the financial benefits of leading a healthy lifestyle.

Mary Beth Snodgrass (pictured) founded Healthiby with Nebraska-based surgeon Dr. Tristan Hartzell. Photo courtesy of Healthiby.

Healthiby's notion that "health is wealth" relates to the idea that engaging in a healthy lifestyle will ultimately benefit individuals financially long-term, as healthcare costs can be avoided. Essentially, Healthiby qualifies health goals as preventative measures for chronic and pre-chronic diseases. Not only does Healthiby inform its users about the long-term financial benefits of healthy living, the program introduces exciting contests in which users are eligible to win financial rewards if they meet certain health-related criteria.

In time for the start of the new year and the health-related resolutions buzz, Healthiby enacts their user-friendly digital software application, social programs, expert health advice and financial incentives to serve their goal-oriented consumers with an engaging health management regiment that is sure to keep them on track throughout the year.

"What we're really focused on this year is, in addition to our incentives, digital content and coach guidance, is making sure that participants are engaging among themselves," Snodgrass tells InnovationMap. "Science shows there are benefits to surrounding yourself with other people who share similar health goals."

In what the program's founders refer to as a "wellness rewards solution," users are able to tap into the Healthiby digital platform to track their progress, participate in social wellness groups, invest in long-term financial incentives and access digestible, cutting edge wellness literature; all components of Healthiby's "journey goals," the program's building blocks to achieving a healthy lifestyle.

"Our software application manages our contests and our rewards, but we also have a very social component, in which participants are meeting online regularly with a dietician coach," Snodgrass explains. "The reason for this is because when we're talking about chronic and pre-chronic conditions, it's important for people to have a strong understanding of how these issues affect the body and what kinds of lifestyle changes are most effective at helping people better manage or reverse them."

Photo courtesy of Healthiby

For an annual minimum of $8 each month, individual consumers have the opportunity to invest in their own long-term wellness through this interactive, user-friendly health progress program.

"Healthiby is providing a really low cost solution for people to get additional social motivation, information, and incentives so that they can stick with their goals throughout the year," Snodgrass said.

Healthiby is currently available to individual consumers in Texas, but its founders have their sights set on expanding the business and sharing their solutions to companies vested in the importance of healthy living for their employees. For now, Houston's health and wellness consumers just got richer — both physically and financially — when Healthiby opened its digital doors to the city.

Real estate tech company founded by Houstonian launches locally, looks for office space

Homecoming

A New York-based company that uses technology to optimize the commercial real estate leasing process is expanding into Houston — and it's a bit of a homecoming for the company's CEO.

SquareFoot, which was founded by Houston native Jonathan Wasserstrum in 2011, has launched in Houston following the closing of a $16 million series B funding round led by Chicago-based DRW VC. The company uses tech tools — like a space calculator and online listings to help users find the right office space quicker and easier than traditional methods.

The Bayou City's growth in small businesses and startups makes for a great market for SquareFoot.

"Houston, in addition to being a leading market for business, is a city in transition," Wasserstrum says. "We've witnessed a growing trend of smaller companies cropping up, with startups showing that they're here to stay. I want SquareFoot to be a major part of the city's growth and evolution."

The idea for a company, Wasserstrum says, came from a friend in Houston who was struggling to find office space for his small company. Years later, that problem's solution would be SquareFoot.

SquareFoot's Houston operations are up and running online, and the listings and resources will continue to grow. Wasserstrum says the team will also open a physical office in Houston, and the team is currently looking for its own office space in a "highly-desirable" area, Wasserstrum says.

"That will not only make it easier for us to show office spaces to prospective clients, but it also sends the message that we understand these clients better than anyone," he explains. "Where you choose to open your offices is part of the story you're shaping for candidates and clients."

In regards to Houston-based employees, Wasserstrum says he will start with tapping a few Houston real estate experts. He will take the business model that was successful in New York and adapt it for Houston

"It's not only the East and West Coasts where innovation is taking place," Wasserstrum says. "We want to help Houston continue to grow as a stellar place to launch and grow a company."

National expansion is Wasserstrum's big goal, he says, and after settling in Houston, he plans to next enter into Washington, D.C., and a few other major markets.

Wasserstrum explains what the Houston expansion means to him, how tech is changing real estate, and trends he's keeping an eye on.

IM: What does it mean to be expanding in your hometown?

Jonathan Wasserstrum: Houston is where I grew up. My whole life has been shaped by what I saw and learned in Houston. I moved away for college, and have built my career on the East Coast, but Houston will always be a big part of me. My parents still live there so I have good reasons to fly home and to come home again.

As I've built out my company, SquareFoot, since 2012 at our NYC headquarters, I have dreamed of being able to expand our services nationally. We have helped over 1,200 companies find and secure office spaces in major cities. As our executive team considered where to invest in and to expand to next, Houston emerged at the top of the list. We made this decision for professional growth reasons, but that choice has an emotional element for me as well.

Going forward, I should have additional good reasons to fly home and to see my parents more often than I have had the occasion to over recent years. Plus, we save on hotel costs!

IM: What makes Houston a great place to expand into?

JW: From an office space perspective, Houston is an under tapped market. There are countless companies looking for the services we provide, but nobody has yet figured out how to build a company to serve them specifically.

We acquire many of our clients through online search — people looking for office space are literally searching online for solutions. We've seen in recent months and years a surge in searches from Houston, which indicated to us that there was a gap that had developed there. We've long had a digital presence there, thanks to these searches, but now we're increasing our physical presence on the ground. We'll hire a broker and put an office there in the coming months.

IM: What sort of trends are you seeing in office real estate? Are these trends happening in Houston already?

JW: Over the past years, we've seen a sharp increase in demand for flexible solutions. Traditional coworking spaces have worked out for many companies, but it's not for everyone.

At the same time, the long-term leases that are usually required upon signing on for an office space of your own has largely kept growing companies out of the market; it has scared them off. We realized there had to be a middle option so we launched FLEX by SquareFoot last year. Now, for the first time, all companies can find the spaces they want with the terms they want.

We are excited to introduce FLEX to the Houston market and to show companies there that there's more lease flexibility and opportunity available than they might think. Change in commercial real estate happens slowly over a long period of time. Houston has the chance now to be a part of their changing wave.

IM: How is technology changing the industry?

JW: For many decades, commercial real estate operated the exact same way. And it intended to stay that way because nobody had reason to believe anything was broken or wrong. However, there were several inefficiencies that clients just had to deal with because that was the industry standard.

The first one was the lack of transparency of which office spaces were unoccupied or what they'd cost. Brokers would lock up this information and keep clients at a distance, unless they were willing to sign on to work with them. With SquareFoot's online listings platform, we have unlocked that information, have educated countless people, and have made for a more seamless and enjoyable process for our clients as partners in their searches.

The other technological breakthrough we've made is in our mobile app. Still, in 2020, too many clients are taking tours of these offices with pen and paper and occasionally snapping a photo or video to send back to their stakeholders. Our app solved those issues once and for all, enabling better communication back and forth and a better user experience for all. Regardless of which team member goes on the office tour with our broker, everyone is clued in and on the same page.

We want everyone on the greater team to buy into the vision, and to recognize the potential, not just one representative who happened to be on the office tour one afternoon.