5 Healthcare Innovation Stories That Nurse Leaders Should Read

Innovation reaches into every corner of healthcare and nurse leaders need to be well-informed.

Nurses are natural healthcare innovators.

After all, it was nurses at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center who developed a process to work around COVID-19 protocols that severely restricted care management for patients with diabetes.

And a nurse leader is the architect of CommonSpirit’s innovative virtual care program that uses videoconferencing technology and dedicated devices in each patient room, allowing the hospital’s virtual nurses to assist bedside nurses by monitoring the unit from a remote digital center.

Innovation reaches into every corner of healthcare, so besides their regular duties of overseeing budgets, staffing, and keeping up-to-date on nursing issues, nurse leaders also must stay informed of innovations that can affect the organization’s bigger picture.

These five innovation stories from HealthLeaders editors will help nurse leaders keep on top of the newest in industry developments:

1. Mayo Clinic Unveils AI Study, New Incubator for Innovative Start-Ups

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic have developed a smartphone app for AI voice analysis that is able to accurately predict which patients have clogged arteries, which can cause heart attacks.

The study builds on earlier work that had identified vocal biomarker components in voice samples.

Researchers found that a patient with a high voice biomarker score was 2.6 times more likely to suffer major problems associated with coronary artery disease (CAD) and three times more likely to show evidence of plaque buildup. It reportedly is the first study of its kind to use voice analysis technology to predict CAD outcomes.

Researchers haven’t determined why certain vocal features indicate a prevalence for CAD, but they’re looking closely at the autonomic nervous system, which regulates the voice box, many parts of the cardiovascular system and other bodily functions that aren’t under conscious control.

“We’re not suggesting that voice analysis technology would replace doctors or replace existing methods of health care delivery,” said Jaskanwal Deep Singh Sara, MD, a cardiology fellow who led the researchers, “but we think there’s a huge opportunity for voice technology to act as an adjunct to existing strategies.”

The Mayo Clinic’s dive into AI includes the launch of an incubator for AI platforms, joining a growing number of health systems looking to develop innovative home-grown services.

2. Researchers using digital health tools to design a ‘digital twin’ for patients

Researchers at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine are creating a “digital twin” that would replace the patient during tests and treatments.

Called the MLBox, it would use digital health wearables and smart devices in the home to collect biological, clinical, behavioral, and environmental data on a patient, and then create a model that could be used to test out new treatments before they’re tried on the patient.

The project initially will focus on treatments for sleep issues, such as sleep apnea, and their link to serious health concerns such as dementia and heart disease.

“With the capacity to discover everything we can about the individual, we can change the relationship between people and their health,” researchers said.

The idea is to create a model that will stand in for the patient, allowing care providers to study how a certain drug or treatment works without putting the patient through any stress or danger. For example, it would allow doctors to identify and design a treatment for a specific type of allergy without needing to run the patient through a battery of tests to identify to what the patient is allergic.

3. Cedars-Sinai researchers use AI to predict heart attacks

Researchers at Cedars-Sinai have created an AI tool that may help care providers predict a patient’s chances of having a heart attack over the next five years.

The algorithm analyzes the amount and composition of plaque in arteries that supply blood to the heart to determine heart attack risk. In the 11-site, international SCOT-HEART study involving almost 1,611 patients from 2010 to 2019, the tool offered “excellent or good agreement” with expert reader measurements and intravascular ultrasound.

“Coronary plaque is often not measured because there is not a fully automated way to do it,” Damini Dey, PhD, director of the quantitative image analysis lab in the Biomedical Imaging Research Institute at Cedars-Sinai and senior author of the study, recently published in The Lancet, said in a press release issued by Cedars-Sinai. “When it is measured, it takes an expert at least 25 to 30 minutes, but now we can use this program to quantify plaque from CTA images in five to six seconds.” 

Dey and her colleagues designed an algorithm that outlines coronary arteries in 3D images, then identifies the blood and plaque deposits within them.

They found that the measurements corresponded with plaque amounts seen in coronary CTAs, and also matched results with images taken by intravascular ultrasound and catheter-based coronary angiography—two invasive tests considered to be highly accurate in assessing coronary artery plaque.

4. 3 digital health strategies to address the patient language barrier

With a surge in virtual care caused by the pandemic and a growing population of limited English proficiency (LEP) patients, clinicians at Massachusetts General Hospital launched new protocols to make sure the Boston-based health center was reaching people who needed to be reached.

Aswita Tan-McGrory, MBA, MSPH, director of the Disparities Solutions Center and administrative director of the Mongan Institute at MGH, and her colleagues outlined those three strategies in a recent article in the American Journal of Managed Care.

First, the team identified the five top languages spoken by MGH’s patient population and launched a targeted campaign in multiple languages aimed at reaching people with limited technology and health literacy.

The health system made 43 Amazon Fire tablets available through an affiliated community health center to patients with LEP and technology barriers, and taught participants how to use the tablet to access healthcare resources.

Second, to address privacy concerns, MGH created a script that described how the health system protects information through the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and under what circumstances patient information can be shared. They also created cards in multiple languages outlining rights and protection of immigrants under the US Constitution and identified a need to educate clinicians about whether and how to ask patients and family members about their immigration status.

Third, MGH partnered with Doximity to develop a browser-based platform, one that doesn’t require the user to download an app, that can create customized text messages in different languages and initiate a video visit. That platform can also be used to link in medical interpreters, either in advance or on demand.

5. Breaking down the barriers to care for people with I/DD

For people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), a trip to the doctor’s office or dentist poses unique challenges for both patient and provider. Now, however, an Ohio nonprofit has developed a health center specially designed to provide those services.

I Am Boundless, based in Columbus, has opened Boundless Health, a facility modeled on the federally qualified health center (FQHC) platform that offers a wide range of healthcare services, including primary and specialty care, behavioral health services, and dentistry, for the I/DD population and their caregivers.

Healthcare providers “are not trained to provide care for these people, and the healthcare system is not built for this,” says Patrick Maynard, PhD, the organization’s president and CEO. “I have a board member with a 38-year-old daughter who is still seeing her pediatrician.”

Studies have found that patients with I/DD and other complex needs are almost twice as likely to be hospitalized than the general population and are prescribed four times as many medications, Maynard says.

A clinic that caters specifically to the I/DD population, with care providers trained to treat these patients, “represents a big piece of the pie that has always been missing,” he says.

The center operates on a strategy of offering whole-person care, integrating services that patient and their families might have a difficult time accessing elsewhere.

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