Great ideas come from within. That belief drives the “culture of innovation” at Children’s Nebraska, where technological improvements led by employees of all roles are transforming operations, the workforce and patient care.
“We’re leveraging the talent of our team members and that’s critical to making our program successful,” says Jerry Vuchak, the hospital’s chief information and innovation officer. “We realize the talent we have in our organization—they bring these great ideas forward.” He adds that because team members are the closest to care delivery, they are best positioned to know what areas need improvement and how best to advance positive patient outcomes and an exceptional patient experience.
The main way the hospital seeks ideas and inspiration from internal staff is through affinity groups that are open to any interested employee. These committees focus on developing emerging technologies, including virtual reality, artificial intelligence and digital health. The groups have been critical in identifying opportunities to improve patient care, such as using virtual reality to lower the use of sedation in Children’s MRI suite, according to Vuchak.
Along with affinity groups, Children’s Nebraska has long engaged team members by empowering them to submit suggestions for improvement with a program it instituted more than five years ago called Bright Ideas. In the spirit of that program, Children’s has launched an organization-wide competition called “Innovation Cup” this fall that seeks ideas specifically on team member engagement and the patient and family experience. The hospital’s strategy council will judge the submissions and select one winner from each category to develop using resources raised specifically to fund innovation at Children’s Nebraska and beyond.
“We hope to develop products that we can then market to help other organizations advance technology in their areas,” Vuchak says. “That's how we're prioritizing the work. We want it to be a grassroots effort.”
Children’s Nebraska regularly empowers employees to seek solutions themselves and across departments, fostering innovations that may not arise otherwise. One example is a couple of nurses who spearheaded Project Austin to bridge the information gap between emergency medical services (EMS) personnel and children with medical complexities. The initiative makes enrollees’ medical information and unique needs available to EMS and emergency responders. However, after realizing that paper-based records were leading to out-of-date patient information, the nurses approached the hospital’s information technology department to explore a better solution. As a result, Children’s is now testing a mobile application that’s integrated with their EMR in real time.
“It's a great example of something that came from two employees having the passion to fill that gap and us investing appropriately in the technology to build that application out,” says Vuchak.
Culture of innovation drives real improvements
Thanks to the work of internal teams, Children’s Nebraska’s efforts are bearing fruit across the organization. The hospital integrated its patient portal to the hospital bedside and has seen its activation rate—the proportion of patients and families who are invited to activate and use a portal account—increase from 51% to 73%. By comparison, the national average in health care is about 37%, Vuchak says. He adds that this is important to overall experience because it gives patients and families easy access to critical health information and the ability to self-schedule, among other key features.
A GPS-enabled mobile application has reduced wayfinding inquiries by 30%. And Vuchak says patient and employee engagement scores have only increased with the technological improvements and other critical work the organization is doing.
Children’s Nebraska has also made investments in onboarding technology at a time when maximizing retention rates remains a priority for all in health care. “What we’ve found is that if we can make their experience as great as it can be and our team members stay for that first year, we have a much greater chance of having them stay for many years to come,” Vuchak says. “And, in doing so, tie their work closely to our mission, vision and values.”