Business COVID-19 Startups

Houston Methodist Tech Hub Creates Early Telemedicine Training Venue for COVID-19

When COVID-19 was just ramping up earlier this year, Houston Methodist’s Center for Innovation Technology Hub saw an opportunity.

The 3,500-square-foot hub originally opened on Jan. 30 as a living laboratory for innovations in patient-centered health care technology, but Methodist’s leadership had other plans, according to Josh Sol, director of ambulatory innovation at Houston Methodist.

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“They began to think about how telemedicine was going to impact our outpatient and inpatient care landscapes,” he said. “We quickly pivoted to creating a training ground for physicians to come up to the tech hub and learn how to use telemedicine.”

Sol’s team partnered with Methodist’s virtual urgent care team, led by Steve Spielman, ambulatory lead of innovation, to create training that could be quickly deployed and that would benefit outpatient groups, some of whom had never used telemedicine.

They also focused on telerounding, where physicians would come up to the tech hub floor and get hands-on training.

On March 1, 66 providers were giving virtual care. By March 25, there were 900 providers utilizing virtual care, Sol said.

“We saw a 1,450 percent increase in virtual visits in March,” he added. “Our stats have gone through the roof on virtual medicine events at our hospitals. We are unbelievably proud of the caregivers who have learned this technology. Transition has been fast, and it is kind of amazing to see everyone rally around the technology.”

Experimenting

Meanwhile, there are plans to continue experimenting with new technology, Sol said. Methodist is partnering with companies such as Amazon and Epic to build alpha prototypes.

For example, they are working on innovations such as remote monitor and real-time locator devices, as well as an ambient listening project where a microphone captures conversation in the room and creates critical efficiencies.

In addition, the partner companies are experimenting with patient engagement tools that enable patients to control things like room temperature and lights, and access entertainment via an in-room iPad.

The path from prototype to hospital room is not always fast, but Sol said each project has a definition of success, whether it’s return on investment, satisfaction increase or an efficiency increase.

“If something meets any of those, we will continue to scale it across the system,” he said.

Partnering

The tech hub is also partnering with entities near Methodist in the Texas Medical Center, such as the TMC Innovation Institute, which hosts digital health startups in its company accelerator program called TMCx.

“We have great synergies with TMCx,” Sol said. “We meet with them to discuss opportunities and will work with some of the companies in their cohort.”

In addition, the hospital is also partnering with New York-based TytoCare, a company that performs remote medical exams on demand. The company closed on a $50 million growth round at the beginning of April.

When the hub opened, TytoCare executives visited Houston Methodist to see it in person, according to Marcos Domiciano, director of provider solutions at TytoCare.

The partnership between the two entities is just starting, he said, and will focus on providing robust virtual care to patients and employers.

“Our hope is that their clinicians, staff and partners can interact with TytoCare in-person and actually touch and feel the solutions so they get firsthand experience of our capabilities,” Domiciano said via email.

For now, the tech hub continues to concentrate on COVID-19. Physicians can perform their telerounds on COVID-positive patients via an isolation room, using an iPad to sync into the room and perform video visits. In addition, the tech team set up a tele-rounding lounge at Methodist’s hospital in Sugar Land where physicians can go and video visit with patients.

“I certainly think this moved the needle about 10 years ahead of its time in four weeks,” Sol said. “We have invested heavily to give physicians and patients a good experience with virtual medicine. I don’t know what the future holds, but I don’t think telemedicine will be going away.”

Illustration: Dom Guzman

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