Delaware’s Innovative Partnerships Drive Health and Scientific Advances for More Personalized, Equitable Care

Delaware Prosperity Partnership sponsors insightful ‘Innovations in Health Sciences’ discussion with academic, healthcare and business visionaries

Empathy, love, equity, partnership and personalization are key words as Delaware shifts the focus of how we, as a state, look at innovations in the rapidly changing world of healthcare. So concurred a panel of experts participating in “Innovations in Health Sciences,” a webinar hosted by the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce and the University of Delaware College of Health Sciences. The session was sponsored by Delaware Prosperity Partnership, Benefits Connection, the Allen Insurance Group, IFS Insurance, and M&T Bank.

Panelists included Dora Cheatham of the Delaware Sustainability Chemistry Alliance, Martha Hall, Ph.D., of the University of Delaware College of Health Sciences, Cindy Bo, chief strategy and business development officer for Nemours Children’s Health System, and Doug Godfrin, founder and chief executive officer of drug-delivery technology startup VeraMorph. Many of the innovations they discussed are being accelerated as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as by another public health crisis facing our state and country today — racism and the need to create a healthier community through more equitable care.

In Delaware, innovation is all about getting people in the room, said Dean Kathleen S. Matt, Ph.D., of UD’s College of Health Sciences, who partnered with ChristianaCare President and CEO Janice E. Nevin, M.D., MPH, to deliver the webinar’s keynote address. While other states may get people into a room for conversation, Matt said, Delaware’s advantage is that action steps follow those conversations.

“In Delaware, she said, “we make things happen together.”

Matt joined the online discussion from the Tower at STAR where UD faculty, staff, students and collaborators identify, address and help solve some of healthcare’s most pressing challenges. Among their innovations are advances in virtual simulation training for clinical students and quality-of-life-enhancing wearable assistive technologies developed by biomedical engineers.

Together Delaware Fuels Innovations in Health Sciences

“Combining research, education and clinical care in our buildings provides an opportunity to enhance interdisciplinary work and speed translation from discovery to delivery,” Matt said. She also highlighted UD innovations ranging from a Parkinson’s Clinic in partnership with ChristianaCare to the university’s innovation healthcare theater. The latter allows students to observe videoed interactions between actual patients and providers, explore rationale behind clinical decisions and follow the progression of patient care from the bedside to the patient’s home.

The strong partnerships so prevalent in Delaware are not the only key to enhancing the training of the next generation of healthcare leaders to work as a team, echoed Nevin. They are what sets Delaware apart in driving the advancement of health and science innovations to benefit our community, she said.

“Strong partnerships allow us to work together to train the next generation of innovative healthcare leaders,” Nevin said. “A huge advantage we have in Delaware is that students get to engage with leaders throughout the state from the very beginning of their clinical training.”

Nevin shared examples of how Delaware’s oldest and largest health system has successfully embraced innovation and transformation to improve quality, access, patient satisfaction and community engagement by making healthcare what she calls “radically convenient for people to get what they need, when, where and how they want to receive it.”

Innovative Approach to Care Delivery

Highlighting an innovative approach to care delivery known as population health, Nevin said that “the opportunity to remake healthcare is within our grasp.” This commitment to provide the right care, at the right time, at the right place with the right people ultimately makes people healthier and care more affordable, she said.

ChristianaCare already is making great progress in shifting the concept of care from office visits required to be scheduled well in advance to more timely secure texting, virtual visits and at home or “right-sight” of care visits, where care doesn’t take a pause between appointments. The vision is that everything that can be digital will be digital, said Nevin, and all care that can be done in the home or community will be.

Other recently launched innovations introduced by ChristianaCare include using the cloud-based voice service Alexa as a virtual assistant to remind patients to take their medications, exercise and perform other tasks to keep them healthy. They also include a free mobile Pregnancy Care Coach app, which gives moms-to-be instant access to expert health care resources and allows them to monitor their health, track their baby’s growth and prepare for their baby’s arrival; the use of computer models to identify patients at risk for emergency department visits and hospital readmissions; and the availability of virtual reality positive distraction therapy.

Many of the ideas for new apps or technology designed to address today’s healthcare challenges and tomorrow’s opportunities stem from frontline caregivers themselves through ChristianaCare’s biennial Innovation Challenge. The Innovation Challenge is hosted by the health system’s Health & Technology Innovation Center located in the Gateway Building of the health system’s Wilmington Campus. 

ChristianaCare Innovation Leverages Technology

Innovation requires forethought to drive change, but also demands the ability to be nimble and leverage technology to forge deep connections and respond to community needs. This capability has earned ChristianaCare spots four years in a row among America’s “Most Wired” hospitals by the College of Healthcare Information for Management Executives. 

Participants agreed that when it comes to innovation, necessity is, indeed, the mother of invention.

“In these challenging times, people come together to bring out innovative ways to train and deliver care differently,” said Matt. “The silver lining is that innovation brings out the best.”

Thoughts on Innovation in Health Sciences from the Panelists:

Moderator: How can our business community step up to help advance healthcare innovation in Delaware?

Panelists: We’re redefining the workforce of the future and must help people to prepare to be part of it. We can’t just put someone in front of a computer and expect them to be proficient in virtual care. We need training programs to prepare students to work in virtual platforms, artificial intelligence and machine learning. We need to think quickly to convert to telehealth by investing in infrastructure. Early-stage companies will be key to helping us with this. Likewise, we have to remember that although we’re experiencing a very real paradigm shift to digital healthcare, not all people are tech-savvy. We can’t let technology drive the innovation. We must focus on functional practicality in line with the comfort level of our end-user. It’s all about mindful design, empathy and a genuine understanding of the user’s needs.

Moderator: How has telehealth changed long-term strategy in terms of innovation?

Panelists:  We’re looking in different ways about when and where patients receive care. We need to rethink the footprint of our existing buildings to offer additional services. It used to be “build it and they will come,” but now we need to be innovative and cater to those we serve. It’s not enough to craft strategies in the boardroom. For innovation to be relevant, we need to talk to our patients and families about what they need.

Moderator:  How must talent respond to innovation needs?

Panelists: Innovation requires — and inspires — talent to change, as well. People are following their passions, exploring options and evaluating challenges to design solutions. Students and current workers alike need to be open to pivoting and taking risks on ways they can bring a unique toolbox to health problems. Interdisciplinary teams are so important. The notion of non-traditional partners is also very important to healthcare innovation, and we need to look at how we are recruiting diverse talent to ensure the delivery of equitable, compassionate care. To be successful in an innovative environment, we all need an element of resiliency. Attitude is everything. Be open-minded. Be adaptable.

Moderator:  How has the pandemic and switch to virtual meetings impacted innovation?

Panelists:  A real positive to the last few months is that we’ve initiated new relationships online out of need. What’s special is that these newfound relationships can and are already progressing to meaningful long-term ones that drive innovation. Our dialogue in response to current events has also adapted in ways that make it easier for people to be willing to share their experiences. Another benefit we’re seeing is that our shift to a virtual environment now makes it more convenient and easier for people to participate in the very research studies that will advance innovation.

Moderator:  Final thoughts?

Panelists: There are so many opportunities for partnership in Delaware and we have tremendous resources in our state in terms of community organizations serving different populations. When we bring folks together early in the process, we see what’s possible – and innovation is the result.

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