Jeffrey Sturman – Memorial Healthcare System
When a COVID-19 patient in noncritical condition leaves a Memorial Healthcare System hospital, they often don’t go home alone.
When these patients are discharged from the emergency room, they’re given a pulse oximeter to measure the oxygen in their red blood cells. Worn over the finger, the device displays health data, which patients input into their MyChart patient portal for hospital staff to review. If a patient reports low blood oxygen levels, they’re directed to come back to the hospital.
According to Jeffrey Sturman, Memorial’s senior vice president and CIO, this approach has saved patients’ lives over the past year. On the flip side, because the device takes the guesswork out of a patient’s condition, it’s cut down on the number of people being unnecessarily readmitted to the hospital.
“We’re trying to affect our consumers in a way that’s more modern and innovative,” Sturman says. “We’re thinking of how to impact health and wellness with technology as part of the care team.”
Memorial Healthcare System has 46 locations in southern Florida, including hospitals, urgent care centers, cancer centers, sports medicine centers and more. The system is anchored by its flagship facility, Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood.
At the height of the pandemic last year, Memorial helped administer thousands of COVID-19 tests in conjunction with the governor’s office and state agencies. To manage the overwhelming numbers, Sturman used EPIC, an electronic medical record system, to automate scheduling appointments and delivering results. If a person tested positive for COVID-19, they received a call from an actual provider; if they tested negative, they got an automated call.
“The stress people go through while waiting for their results is enormous, so we wanted to make the process as efficient as possible,” Sturman says.
He’s now using automation to schedule people for COVID-19 vaccines. The system also validates the clinical criteria needed to be eligible for a vaccine, such as age and health conditions.
The IT department has played a large role in how patients with COVID-19 are cared for while admitted to the hospital. Patients with the virus are given iPads so nurses and doctors can monitor them through a camera—and limit their own exposure. Patients can use the device to ask questions or request assistance. They can also use them to video chat with their families.
Video appointments, or telehealth sessions, have also been more widely implemented at Memorial in the wake of COVID-19. Pre-pandemic, the healthcare system had approximately 2,000 telehealth visits each year. Over the past year, it had 230,000. For most of 2020, six platforms were in use, depending on a doctor’s preference, but since the start of 2021, Sturman has most telehealth appointments go through Epic.
A consolidated system ensures all data is tracked through electronic records and that patients find the process as simple as possible.
One of Sturman’s main goals is to make it easier for people to get the care they need—both in and out of the hospital.
Memorial will be using “remote patient monitoring devices” for conditions other than COVID-19, such as diabetes or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The take-home devices will sync with Epic and ensure conditions that are worsening don’t go unchecked.
“We’ve expected for generations that people will come to the hospital if something’s wrong, but that’s a bad expectation,” Sturman says. “We need to be more proactive.”
If a condition is stable, the device saves the person from having to return to the hospital. In this way, Sturman says, the devices give people more control over their health and their care management.
In general, he wants Memorial’s processes to be more “consumer-centric.” He’s using artificial intelligence and robotics processing to create automation in the organization’s call centers so people can pay bills, make appointments and refill prescriptions more efficiently.
Despite these and other IT upgrades, Sturman insists that technology will never replace nurses and doctors. Rather, he thinks it can help people take better care of themselves.
Bridging the gap
As an advocate for improving people’s health, Sturman thinks about how Memorial can help people even when they’re not directly receiving care. He’s deliberate in his language, referring to people as patients when they’re receiving treatment and consumers when they’re not.
By offering virtual services and take-home devices, health and wellness can be integrated more seamlessly into a person’s life, he says.
“In health care, historically doctors and nurses had to take care of us,” he says. “There is a lot you can do yourself; it just requires a level of knowledge. By achieving this, our community will benefit by being healthier and more aware of their own wellness.”
Although Sturman’s expertise is in technology, he’s always been passionate about health care and was even pre-med in college. After realizing a career as a doctor wasn’t what he wanted, he took classes in healthcare administration and ultimately got his master’s in the subject.
His career led him to technology, and he realized he could “bridge the gap between technology and health care.”
“I love that, even as a CIO who doesn’t do direct patient care, I get to feel like I’m affecting patients every day,” Sturman says. “I get to collaborate on solutions hospital-wide and feel like I’m part of the care team.”
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