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Geisinger Seeks Opportunities to Accelerate Healthcare Transformation Through COVID-19 Response

Analysis  |  By Mandy Roth  
   April 10, 2020

The Steele Institute for Healthcare Innovation is not only responding to the crisis, but examining the response for opportunities to impact future innovations.

In the midst of a crisis, it is seemingly impossible to see beyond the matters at hand. Yet at least one health system innovation arm is doing just that, hoping to use lessons learned during the pandemic to transform future healthcare delivery.

While leading COVID-19 digital initiatives and marshalling data capabilities for Geisinger's 13-hospital Danville, Pennsylvania-based health system, the Steele Institute for Health Innovation is already looking down the road.

Capturing insights and ideas now could frame the Institute's future innovation efforts and further accelerate its mission to transform the healthcare industry, says Karen Murphy, PhD, RN, executive vice president and chief innovation officer at Geisinger, and founding director of the Steele Institute. The organization was launched less than two years ago to further expand the Geisinger's tradition of innovation.

The approach Geisinger is using could help other hospitals and healthcare system innovation arms refocus their own efforts. HealthLeaders spoke with Murphy recently, who shared how the Institute is helping the health system respond to COVID-19 and how it may impact the focus of their work going forward. Following are excerpts from the interview, lightly edited for space and clarity.

HealthLeaders: What are the biggest innovation challenges related to COVID-19?

Karen Murphy: Our biggest challenge for COVID-19 is to stop the spread. We [need to] figure out a way to mitigate, and really isolate, those who are infected who don't need hospital care.

If we practiced strict isolation, we could certainly make a difference. Until we have the treatment plan, until we have drugs available or a vaccine, we're going to have to be very diligent on not only taking care of the patients—[of] which our healthcare workers are doing a magnificent job—but we have to be very diligent in trying to prevent the disease from occurring and mitigating those opportunities.

HL: Is the Steele Institute working on specific innovations related to COVID-19?

Murphy:We are. The Steele Institute really mobilized, along with the Geisinger enterprise. I don't know that there's a single person in the entire Geisinger family that isn't working on COVID. We just pivoted to a COVID-19 response while we still continue to take care of our other patients.

We have a large body of work going on supporting the enterprise in caring for COVID-19 patients. The support that the Steele Institute has given is really leveraging our digital and data capabilities:

  • The data team has done an amazing job of building dashboards and communication tools that share with clinicians where we're at today and where we think we're going.
  • The intelligent automation hub has built robotic process automation tools—bots—to screen employees very quickly, and has helped take the load off those who are working on the front lines.
  • Our product innovation team has worked diligently to create new applications and digital approaches to screening employees and visitors.
  • We've developed and expanded our communication externally with EMS providers.
  • In addition, along with our research team, [we're launching] an effort to do contact tracing among our patients who are scheduling tests or come back positive. We are going to try to stem the tide by focusing on prevention.

HL: Where do you go from here?

Murphy:We've already started post-COVID planning. It's an opportunity to transform the delivery system because we'll [never] have an opportunity like this again. We have this opportunity to take a look at what we stopped doing three weeks ago and [determine] what we don't want to start again.  If we lived without it for three weeks, it really didn't prove that it had a value. And what transformations took place over these three weeks that have really made an impact? What do we not only want to continue;  what do we want to expand?

HL: Is telehealth among the initiatives that should be expanded? What else?

Murphy: Virtual care is one thing that I think will transform the healthcare industry. And, we're looking at what we need in terms of infection control. How do we change our practices? The world is going to be a new place and we need that post-COVID planning team, which we're working across the enterprise, to help us be transformational. Our goal at Geisinger is not to be the same. We do not want to just switch the light back on. We want to come out of this better and stronger and be able to serve our patients, our Geisinger family, and our community in a better way.

HL: Is there anything you'd like to add to what we've discussed?

Murphy: There are some bright lights that have come out of this. One is the incredible resilience of the healthcare delivery system workforce. [Also], the ability for the healthcare industry to turn on a dime—to stop the system in its tracks and turn to what patients really need.

We're all in this together, in terms of where we stand today in this incredible, unimaginable moment. I encourage everybody to forge ahead. This incredible industry has really shown its capabilities to this country. The healthcare delivery system in this country will come out strong—stronger and better than we were before.

“Post-COVID … We do not want to just switch the light back on. We want to come out of this better and stronger.”

Mandy Roth is the innovations editor at HealthLeaders.


Geisinger has already started post-COVID planning as "an opportunity to transform the delivery system," according to its innovation executive.

Opportunities include virtual care, infection control practices and contact tracing.

If the system lived without something during the crisis, it may not be delivering long-term value.

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