A Closer Look at Houston Methodist's Technology Hub

During our recent tour of Houston’s vast medical research facilities, we visited Houston Methodist, one of several large hospitals that are part of Texas Medical Center. They recently opened the Technology Hub, a converted wing of the building to showcase and test new hardware and software technologies in simulated clinical settings, with the goal that they’ll be used in actual patient care.

Enter through the doors of the hub, and you’ll find yourself in a version of a hospital of the future. You won’t, however, find Tricorders and robotic doctors (yet). All the technology inside the hub, such as the enormous 8K touchscreen in the entryway, is fully functional and commercially available. Moreover, the gadgets inside the hub are not limited to professional medical devices; Amazon Alexa plays a significant role, the commercially available Oculus Quest VR headset was the star of the VR room, and the AliveCor Kardia and other personal health devices were on display as well.

The hub itself consists of nearly a dozen showcase rooms, collaborations spaces, and coworking labs. The showcase rooms demonstrate how technology can be seamlessly integrated into the patient experience. And the entire experience has been thought out: the waiting room (or “welcome lounge”) features simple things like more comfortable seating and integrated charging ports, the inpatient room focuses on improved patient-provider interactions, the outpatient room is centered on comfort and hospitality, and the home experience room showcases how patients can be empowered to care for their health from the comfort of their homes. There are also rooms dedicated to showing how doctors and nurses could perform virtual consultations and how virtual reality can help both patients and physicians.

We wanted to learn a little more about the hub and what Houston Methodist hopes to accomplish through it, so we sat down with Josh Sol, administrative director of Innovation and Ambulatory Clinical Systems and our tour guide, for a closer look:

Scott Jung, Medgadget: How did the concept for the Technology Hub come about?

Josh Sol, Houston Methodist: About two years ago, the Center for Innovation was formed at Houston Methodist to address the ongoing need and growth of digital innovations across the hospital system. We felt that the technologies across the hospital needed to be showcased in a way that clinician leaders could experience the technologies available to them. At first, we had plans to create a space the size of an office. Then Roberta Schwartz, chief innovation officer, offered up a 3,500-square foot wing of a hospital floor that was no longer being used for patients. The intention was to create an immersive, interactive experience where hospital leaders, physicians, and staff could learn about innovative technologies and become a part of or suggest new ideas to prototype. The technology hub became just that – a tangible flag in the ground for digital health innovations.

While we were creating the space, we visited technology briefing centers across the country, which helped us to develop concepts and align partnerships for collaborations.

Medgadget: In addition to medical devices, we saw that the hub also has several non-medical consumer gadgets. How are some of them being utilized in a clinical setting?

Josh Sol: Alexa is being used in a few ways. Our team has been working on strategies for Alexa in the home, to find the nearest ED, to schedule an appointment or even find a career at Houston Methodist. During COVID-19, Alexas were placed into some patient isolation rooms. More than 250 Alexas have been deployed across the system to support this effort of touchless communication for patients.

iPads have also been deployed across the system to focus on two initiatives: telerounding to support our clinicians treating COVID-19 positive patients and not break the isolation of the patient, patient engagement utilizing the iPads to create opportunities for patients to have entertainment in the isolations rooms, and more importantly, to be able to connect with family members.

We’ve also implemented a “mobile first” strategy: through the MyMethodistApp, patients can use their smart phones for telemedicine. The “Your Hospital Stay” feature is another way patients can use their mobile devices while in the hospital to conveniently see information about their visit and also include family members as part of their health care stay. This has especially been helpful during this time since visitation restrictions are limited. Finally, clinicians are communicating via smart devices and seeing pertinent information on patients utilizing our Houston Methodist mobile app tool sets.

Medgadget: How do you choose the technology that is part of the hub?

Josh Sol: We go through an evaluation process, discuss the opportunities and how we can try this technology. We evaluate security and network needs then work with the company to procure the device to experience it.

Medgadget: The hub recently opened in January, and Medgadget visited last month during the early stages of COVID-19. In the weeks since, how has activity in the hub changed as a result of coronavirus?

Josh Sol: As we began to see pandemic on the horizon, our leadership had the foresight to ramp up telemedicine capabilities. We’ve seen significant use of virtual care services with more than a 1,500% increase since early March. We shifted our focus in the hub and became a virtual care training center to ensure we would be prepared for a shift in the way we see patients. More than 900 clinicians are seeing patients via virtual care – up from 60 providers at the start of March.

Medgadget: Can you share any plans on what’s next for the hub?

Josh Sol: Like digital technology, the hub will continue to evolve and create digital experiences that make life easier for our patients. COVID-19 has accelerated digital technology adoption, so the ideas we scale out of the tech hub are currently working to be applied across the hospital system. We have ideas around touchless and voice technologies, patient-focused technologies, virtual, AI (artificial intelligence), RTLS (real-time location system), and monitoring devices to name a few. We will continue to focus on the technology hub being an interactive and immersive place even as we transition into a new world after COVID-19.

More information: Houston Methodist Technology Hub