What Houston Methodist hopes to perform at its 2nd innovation hub

Last week, Houston Methodist became the first healthcare-centric entity to take up room in the Ion, a 16-acre innovation district established by the city of Houston and Rice University.

The health system is currently still building out its space there, which is expected to be complete  by the end of the year. The 1,200-square-foot space will be modeled after Houston Methodist’s Center for Innovation Technology Hub, which is located at its flagship hospital.

The Center for Innovation Technology Hub opened in 2020 to provide a laboratory environment to pilot patient-centered digital health tools, focusing initially on voice technology/natural language processing, wearables and virtual reality. Houston Methodist’s space at the Ion will be a smaller replica of this hub.

The space will be used for networking and informational programming with other companies and entrepreneurs in the Ion. Houston Methodist wants to tap into local talent to help them build digital health tools for its smart hospitals, Michelle Stansbury, the health system’s vice president of innovation and IT applications, said in an interview. She pointed out that since there are many innovative companies emerging in Houston and many forward thinkers who are moving to Texas, the health system saw an opportunity to tap into that instead of solely relying on partnerships with vendors who are based across the country or overseas.

“When you think about digital technology, it’s not industry-agnostic — it’s industry-centric,” Stansbury said. “Every organization is thinking about digital ways to help improve the overall customer experience, whoever their customer, yes. Our ultimate goal at the Ion is to get healthcare into that space, because we believe it is an untapped industry.”

Houston Methodist’s space at the Ion will help the health system determine new ways to utilize digital technology at its eighth smart hospital, which the health system is currently building. Houston Methodist Cypress Hospital is scheduled to open in the first quarter of 2025. Stansbury said the health system is focused on leveraging robotic technology to automate processes at the new hospital, as well as implementing consumer-friendly messaging and payment technology that gives patients the convenience they prefer.

Stansbury pointed out a couple key projects the health system has piloted since the its first innovation center opened two years ago.

The first is an ambient listening tool Houston Methodist developed for its physicians and clinics in partnership with Amazon. The tool uses natural language processing to capture all the documentation necessary for an appointment, instantly inputting it into the EHR. It also codes so that when physicians are billing, all they have to do is sign off. The technology is still being piloted but could be rolled out across the system as soon as next year, according to Stansbury. 

Houston Methodist and Amazon are also piloting a voice skill for the operating room that will be paired with Amazon’s Alexa.  Surgeons and other clinicians in the operating room can use the tool to run through procedural steps — such as administering anesthesia, tourniquet application and bringing up X-rays — all without having to touch a computer. The tool also allows users to confirm to the voice assistant that they have completed each action on their checklist.

Going forward, Stansbury said one of Houston Methodist’s innovation focuses will be partnering with biosensor organizations to see whether wearable technology can be meaningfully instituted in hospitals. Instead of looking at biosensors’ more popular use in home settings, the health system thinks the technology could continually collect patient data that care teams can use to inform more timely and targeted care plans. 

Photo: Khanisorn Chaokla, Getty Images

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