What innovation looks like at a medium-sized hospital

Mobile, Alabama-based Springhill Medical Center keeps a focus on physician and patient engagement as it works to drive process improvements and stay competitive.
By Mike Miliard
10:50 AM
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Springhill Medical Center in Mobile, Alabama

Springhill Medical Center in Mobile, Alabama. Credit: jca2112 via Wikipedia

Springhill Medical Center, a 250-plus bed hospital based in Mobile, Alabama, exists in a crowded and competitive market. The for-profit, privately-owned hospital operates near nine other groups across two counties managed by five different providers.

For that reason, Springhill is always looking for innovative ways to maintain its competitive advantage – to provide a good patient experience and to keep its own physicians happy.

"Being the only for-profit, we have to be hitting on all 12 cylinders, that's for sure," said Springhill Chief Information Officer Mark Kilborn. "We have to be ahead of the game – we have to make it easy for physicians to practice here at Springhill, because if they don't like the way we do things, all they have to do is drive down the street."

During our Focus on Innovation, we interviewed executives at a large academic medical center, in this case Ochsner, to see how the big hospitals approach innovation, mid-size hospitals as well as small and rural providers. Springhill represents just how much a medium-sized hospital can achieve with the right approach.

Leading-edge Imaging, robots and infrastructure

Over the years, that ethos has led the hospital toward several pioneering uses of technology to drive efficiency and improve outcomes. It has implemented advanced imaging equipment, was the first provider in the area to use the da Vinci Xi robotic surgery system and was one of the first in the world to roll out Cisco VoIP technology system-wide, said Kilborn.

"Springhill was also the first hospital, back in 2004, to raise its hand when only 5 percent of hospitals were on the electronic health record," he said.

"Ownership here likes to be on the cutting-edge, they know we've got to be more attractive. But that was a very, very bold decision, back in 2004, to tell our doctors: 'Put down your pens and pencils that you've been practicing with your whole career, because we've got a new way we want to do it.'"

That early partnership with Allscripts has paid dividends in the years since. Back in 2015, for instance, Springhill managed to attain Stage 7 on the HIMSS EMR Adoption Model, joining an elite cohort of just 6.2 percent hospitals as an entirely paperless operation.

"You've got to be proactive in this day and age, not only to meet regulatory requirements but proactive in staying ahead of everybody else," said Kilborn. "We're a for-profit hospital. We don't have the benefit of charities and foundations and all that good stuff. We have to be very lean and very assured of the ROI on everything we do – whether it's a workflow initiative or a software purchase."

Pro tip: Listen to physicians

Through it all, that spirit of innovation has been driven by the hospital's physicians as much as anyone, said Springhill's Clinical Applications Manager Pam Shedd.
 
"We want to encourage the participation of the physician," she said. "I think that's why we've had some of our biggest successes."

Right now, for instance, "we're doing a lot of work around readmission rates," Shedd explained. "Congestive heart failure, chest pain, COPD. The physicians are involved in a number or committees, and the committees make their recommendations and then they get filtered up for approval."

Among the initiatives is to "automate certain processes to improve turnaround times for CHF and chest pain patients who get admitted," she said, and "involvement of the physicians in the early stages, showing them where they are with their benchmarks and just being really involved in these committees and their data," has been key.

That's why the hospital makes it a priority to listen to what physicians have to say. Its owner meets with physician groups quarterly to "find out what we can do differently and better," said Shedd. "Is there something else we can do through technology to help drive them down the path they need to go to?"

"Whatever it takes to understand their workflow," Kilborn added. "Find places they may be running into walls and work to make it better. We go out looking, and they answer."

At the same time, there's still work to be done on the innovation front. As good as the hospital is with engaging with physicians, "we are not where we want to be with patient engagement," he said. "We are engaged in enhancing our patient engagement dramatically."

That will be one of Springhill's big to-dos in the near future as it also works toward renewing its Stage 7 status.

"It gets a lot tougher in that second go-'round," said Kilborn. "And there's some things we need to work on to keep that certification."
 
When it comes to driving innovation, HIMSS Stage 7 is clearly a valuable benchmark and a "great badge of honor," he said. "But don't go after it for the badge of honor that it is, go after it for the improvements it's going to bring to your organization and overall patient care."

Focus on Innovation

In September, we take a deep dive into the cutting-edge development and disruption of healthcare innovation.

Twitter: @MikeMiliardHITN
Email the writer: mike.miliard@himssmedia.com