Health Tech

3 Tech Investment Lessons From Houston Methodist’s Chief Innovation Officer

Roberta Schwartz, Houston Methodist’s chief innovation officer, has had years of experience overseeing technology adoption at her organization. At a conference, she highlighted how important it is for digital health tools to have strong EHR integrations and encouraged hospital leaders to not be afraid of starting various technology initiatives in unrelated areas.

Hospital executives overseeing technology adoption have to try and master the delicate balance between prudence and venture. Amid unpredictable financial pressures, waves of hype cycles in the digital health world, and changing regulatory requirements, it can be difficult to decide which technology projects to embrace and which solutions to ignore or put on the back burner.

Roberta Schwartz has had years of experience trying to get this right — she is the chief innovation officer at Houston Methodist, where she has worked for more than 22 years. During an interview Monday at Oliver Wyman’s Health Innovation Summit in Chicago, she shared three pieces of wisdom that give us a window into her technology investment strategy.

There are two parts to AI

“There are two parts of AI. There’s your product and there’s my change management. Those two things have to flow together, or it doesn’t matter what your product does. The question is: are hospital systems ready for the change management portion?” Schwartz declared.

Sometimes hospitals will be ready for the change management piece out of pure necessity. This is why virtual nursing took off so quickly — because the technology worked and because it “was absolutely essential to survive,” she said.

Schwartz reminded technology vendors that hospitals aren’t seeking out products that can solve the world’s problems — they are seeking out solutions to a specific problem that they’ve focused in on. 

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How vendors differentiate themselves

One of the most important ways that a vendor can differentiate themselves from the competition is by having superior technology. But for the vendors of some tools that hospitals are looking to buy right now, the quality of technology has more or less equalized among various companies, Schwartz noted. In these cases, it can often come down to a question of which vendor will be cheapest, she explained.

But it can also come down to a question of which vendor’s tool has a strong integration with the hospital’s EHR vendor. 

“You could like one product better, but if the other product’s integration with Epic is super strong, then it’s hard to say whether or not you’re going to be able to adopt. Integration is super important. Doctors do not want to go outside of the major platform — they just don’t,” Schwartz said.

Prioritization is overrated

Health systems are facing a host of challenges — such as staffing shortages, evolving regulatory compliance requirements, financial constraints and changing patient preferences — so it can be difficult for leaders to decide which initiatives to prioritize. But Schwartz declared that she doesn’t “believe in priority.” 

This means that if she finds a solution that can solve a problem that Houston Methodist has, she will try to pursue it at the same time other initiatives are going on in unrelated areas of the organization.

“Generally, when health systems are big enough, they can put 50 different tools in 50 different areas. Then your only limitation is how much the system can handle at a time. But if everyone had to prioritize, we would all prioritize access, and then nothing will happen in the rest of the spaces. I think that giving yourself permission to try out a variety of different solutions in different environments is super important because we’re all learning from each other in different ways,” Schwartz explained.

Photo: metamorworks, Getty Images