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Shaping the Future of Health Fueled by Nurses
Episode

Mary Lou Ackerman, VP of Innovation and Digital Health at SE Health

Shaping the Future of Health Fueled by Nurses

Have you involved a nurse or a nurse team in the development of your solution? If the answer is yes, kudos to you. But if the answer is no, now’s the time.

In this episode of the SONSIEL series, we have the privilege of hosting Mary Lou Ackerman, VP of Innovation and Digital Health at SE Health and a founding member of SONSIEL and an active member of CHIEF.  This is the first part of the twelve-part series with regard to the role of the nurse in health care, nurses and leadership nurses in innovation and health care. 

Listen as Mary Lou explains about SE Health, it’s mission, the impact they have on people’s lives and health, and the company’s mindset and approach to focus on people. She emphasizes the importance of having nurses on the table with technology companies designing solutions and shares insights on innovation, digital healthcare, wanting to be successful versus wanting to learn from each experience, and more. This is a fantastic interview and we’ve enjoyed it, so please tune in!

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Shaping the Future of Health Fueled by Nurses

About Mary Lou Ackerman

Mary Lou is a Founding Member of SONSIEL and an active Member of CHIEF (Canada’s Health Informatics Executive Forum) with Digital Health Canada. She has led the development and implementation of many business transformation projects, innovations and partnerships.

Mary Lou joined St. Elizabeth in 1987 as a visiting nurse, and she has augmented her clinical background with a graduate business degree and significant experience with health informatics and technologies. She has a passion for community health care, combined with the desire to advance care, creating innovative service models supported by digital health technologies to create the future that will provide a personalized, accessible, meaningful health experience for individuals, their families and service providers that support them.

Shaping the Future of Health Fueled by Nurses with Mary Lou Ackerman, VP of Innovation and Digital Health at SE Health: Audio automatically transcribed by Sonix

Shaping the Future of Health Fueled by Nurses with Mary Lou Ackerman, VP of Innovation and Digital Health at SE Health: this mp3 audio file was automatically transcribed by Sonix with the best speech-to-text algorithms. This transcript may contain errors.

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Saul Marquez:
Welcome back to the Outcomes Rocket everyone, Saul Marquez here. Today, I have the privilege of hosting Mary Lou Ackerman. She is the Vice President of Innovation and Digital Health at SE Health. Today, we’re doing part one of the twelve-part series with regard to the role of the nurse in health care, nurses and leadership nurses in innovation and health care. This series is sponsored by SONSIEL, the Society of Nursing, Scientist, Innovator and Entrepreneur Leaders. They’re doing incredible things. And I’m so excited to kick off this series with Mary Lou. She is a Founding member of SONSIEL and an active Member of CHIEF. That’s Canada’s Health Informatics Executive Forum with Digital Health Canada. Her background is extensive. She has led the development and implementation of many business transformation projects, innovations and partnerships. Mary Lou joined St. Elizabeth in 1987 as a visiting nurse, and she has augmented her clinical background with a graduate business degree and significant experience with health informatics and technologies. Mary Lou has a passion for community health care, combined with the desire to advance care, creating innovative service models supported by digital health technologies to create the future that will provide a personalized, accessible, meaningful health experience for individuals, their families and service providers that support them. It’s going to be a fun and great conversation with Mary Lou. so Mary Lou, thank you so much for joining us today.

Mary Lou Ackerman:
Oh, thank you for having me. Always excited to share nursing stories and talk about innovation in health care.

Saul Marquez:
Thank you. Yeah. And so before we dive into the work that you’re doing and your view on nurse leadership, talk to us a little bit about what inspires your work in health care.

Mary Lou Ackerman:
Oh, there are so many reasons. Of course, helping people to live their best lives underpins the inspiration or energy I get from working in health care, that with the numerous opportunities that a career in health care offers. As a nurse, I’ve enjoyed every opportunity from my early days as a frontline nurse working with individuals and their families into leadership positions, working with staff, ensuring that they have what they need to provide the best care possible. I went into a focus on health informatics, understanding what we need to do and the impact it has on patient experiences. And now using all of those experiences and knowledge in my current role in innovation to design, test new solutions and service models to really help reshape the future of health. It’s really hard not to be inspired as a nurse, not only with all those opportunities but the impact that you can make on how people live their best lives through any one of those opportunities.

Saul Marquez:
And it’s really meaningful work, Mary Lou. And you’ve done so many things from bedside to executive. It’s fantastic to see that you’ve done what you’ve done. And so as you focus on the work that SE health is doing, the work that you’re doing there, how would you say the organization is adding value to the health care ecosystem?

Mary Lou Ackerman:
SE Health is well known in Canada as a leader in home and community, also bringing excellence and innovation to seniors lifestyle and family caregiving. Our mission is simply to bring hope and happiness and to deliver holistic life care to individuals. For over a hundred years, we’ve been providing care in the place people call their home. This could be their own home or senior living facilities, in clinics, in schools or even on the streets. Last year, we impacted the lives of more than one hundred and fifty thousand people, the approximately seven million visits. This is a whole lot of opportunity to bring hope and happiness by inspiring these care exchanges with individuals that are really meaningful and impactful.

Mary Lou Ackerman:
In my role as I had the privilege to work with nurses, health system partners and technology companies who are looking for solutions to modernize the delivery of health care. It’s with these partnerships that we’re able to design new service models enabled by the technology to augment clinical care and enhance those care experiences and ultimately change the way individuals experience health.

Saul Marquez:
Mary Lou, it’s incredible. And we’re seeing a shift in health and health care to the home. And you guys have been playing in this space for over one hundred years. I’m sure there are a lot of insights you can share to really add value to how many companies and even hospital systems are thinking about care in the home. So what would you say makes what you do different and maybe even unique than what’s available today?

Mary Lou Ackerman:
I think one of the things about working in home care is you’re really grounded in the way people live their lives. So I think it’s the mindset and the desire and an organization that inspires you to make sure that those experiences are as meaningful as they can be. So SE Health has created a culture of innovation where people are at the forefront, meaning the expectation is always to do better. Seek out those opportunities to improve what is available today and to look beyond what is and look for what could be for the purpose of making that user experience the best for people both internally and externally. But most importantly, I think it’s important to surround yourself with good people, people who are also inspired to disrupt our current health care system.

Mary Lou Ackerman:
For nurse innovators, entrepreneurs and scientists and organizations like SONSIEL is a great way to network, learn and share with key health system changemakers. Their stories are so inspiring and their energy is just absolutely contagious when you get in with a group of them. So I think that’s what makes us different. It’s not really so much about what we do, but I think it is that mindset and it’s the approach to focusing on what really matters or people.

Saul Marquez:
Yeah, and I can feel it Mary Lou, like the way that you said it, it feels and it’s that nurse touch that you care and you want to be there and you just want people to have a great experience. You said spread hope and happiness and I just love that. And this is exactly it. This is the nurse touch.

Mary Lou Ackerman:
But I think a lot of people who hear about our mission of spreading hope and happiness, it just really resonates with people external of the organization, but most importantly, with people internal to the organization. You can see what spreading hope and happiness looks like and feels like. So to work for an organization where you can really live their mission is a real privilege and provides great guidance as you’re deciding what you should be doing and not doing. It’s quite simple to look back and say, OK, is this going to have an impact, a positive impact? Is this going to give somebody hope as they’re facing really challenging times in their lives? Is it going to provide some happiness to them or to their families? And then if it does, you’re doing the right thing.

Saul Marquez:
I love it. The North Star doesn’t get clearer than that. And so Mary Lou, what do you believe people need to know? Everybody listening today. What do they need to know that maybe they don’t know about the role of nursing and improving health outcomes and business?

Mary Lou Ackerman:
I think our health system is starving for innovation. We’re still struggling to access the facts today. That being said, it’s also wide open for opportunity and a breeding ground for entrepreneurs looking to improve patient and health care providers’ experience. In parallel, there have also been significant investments in technology with the introduction of things like machine learning, wearables, voice technology solutions. We’re seeing much better user interfaces, along with greater value from its use. But as we increase the adoption of the digital health technologies at the same time, we’re increasing our collection of health data, allowing us to move from this sort of reactive health care system to one that’s personalized and predictive, allowing us to get ahead of the problems even before they happen. They’re saying now that medicine will advance more in the next 10 years than it has in the past one hundred years. So how do we improve outcomes or what impact does nurses have on making health care better?

Mary Lou Ackerman:
Well, it’s really important that we work together. If digital health is expected to grow to this three hundred and eighty billion dollar internationally in the next five years. This, of course, is dependent on the adoption of that technology by the intended users. And nurses are key to making this happen. They’re the most trusted professionals. They make up more than 50 percent of the health care workforce and they know what works and what doesn’t work for patients and their families. Every digital health technology company should have nurses on their teams. We bring nurses to the table to design, develop, test and lead new service models that are supported by technology. The digital health technology is then designed to fit into a new service model that both augments clinical care and enhances the client experience. I think it’s really important that with the nurse’s insight and really understanding their workflows and the decisions that they’re trying to make during the day, if they’re not at the table to share those experience with technology companies who are designing solutions, those critical pieces are missed. And what ends up happening is we end up trying to put these square pegs into round holes. We see that technology is just not adopted because it doesn’t meet the needs or it adds work versus augments the work that nurses do. So I think if we really want to see improved outcomes, increase the adoption of technology and enhance patients and providers experiences, we can’t do this without nurses at the table.

Saul Marquez:
So well said, Mary Lou. And I agree with you wholeheartedly. The role of the nurse is critical, and I didn’t know that it was over 50 percent of the workforce in health care as nurses.

Mary Lou Ackerman:
Yeah, they really do. They know health care. They also know how health care is provided and the impact that it has on the patient experience.

Saul Marquez:
Wow. Yeah. And, you know, I’m floored by that number. So super interesting. And so, give us an example of when you saw your nursing team provide a great solution to a problem.

Mary Lou Ackerman:
Saul, I’ll give you two examples. One, where we were able to work very closely with the vendor on looking at adopting their product into our clinical workflows. And the product was a tool that would allow nurses to assess a client’s brain health to identify early signs of cognitive dysfunction. This particular tool was it was designed to identify early warning signs. So signs that would we can’t see today with the current technology that’s being used or the current solutions that are being used to assess brain health.

Mary Lou Ackerman:
So it was a tablet-based tool and it had these games on it that the individual would work through. And based on how they responded to the games, like building puzzles and finding moving objects around those sorts of things, it would identify any sort of signs of weakness in their cognitive function. And it would also give the nurses feedback and that individual feedback on things they can do to strengthen those weaknesses within their brain health. So ultimately, you would think that if you could identify it earlier and treat it earlier, it would slow down the progression of the dysfunction.

Mary Lou Ackerman:
So on paper and in principle, all wonderful. We weren’t involved in the design process because the tool was already designed, but we did do a pilot test with it, with the number of nurses and clients, and we were able to provide back to the vendor some really great feedback on what they need to do in order to have this be a successful tool for use in the home care environment. So we do a lot of that where we’re a bit late to the table because we haven’t been involved in design. But we do think that there is optimism in the end value in the product or half the roadmap that this particular vendor is on. So we provide them feedback so that they can go back to within their organization and develop a better product. That’s one. Another example is wound care is a significant problem in health care and we haven’t really done much to enhance how we deliver wound care services. However, there’s lots of companies out there now that are working on using pictures, photography to better assess wounds, measure wound healing, provide clinical guidance. So we’re working with the company now that has this great tool that does all that. So it automates a lot of the clinical workflow. So it saves the nurses time. She doesn’t have to do one measurements.

Mary Lou Ackerman:
She doesn’t have to do as much clinical documentation because the AI within this wound care application, it does a lot of that for her. It also applies if the healing trajectory is gone off its path. So it flags for the nurse that something needs to change and can make recommendations. So it’s augmenting that clinical decision-making as well. And it’s also really nice about this one, for patients who have experienced chronic wounds, they’re now actually able to see their wound progression, especially if their wound has been in an area on their body that they can’t see.

Mary Lou Ackerman:
They get quite engaged in the wound healing process now because they’re seeing the results of their compliance to their wound care regime. So working very closely with the vendor, we have changed some of the clinical workflows and they’ve changed some of their tooling so that it fits within that workflow. So we’re almost at a point now where we feel very comfortable and confident that this is a solution that is really going to work well. So it works very well in the home care environment. It’s almost like winning on all sides of the equation.

Saul Marquez:
I love it. It’s phenomenal and a wealth of knowledge, I’m sure, for the company that you and your team engaged both companies right. The brain health company and the wound care company.

Mary Lou Ackerman:
Yeah, yeah. I think that’s a big part of it, is working together to find the right solutions for people. Yeah. And, you know, not everything worked out. So would be curious what you feel has been one of the biggest setbacks you’ve experienced and a key learning for me. My I think my biggest setback was looking at opportunities that didn’t move forward as a setback or a failure. When you’re really passionate about finding solutions and you’re not successful, failure can be your worst enemy. It’s pretty discouraging, but at the same time, it’s pretty humbling as well. So if you can flip your mindset and really look at these great look at these as great learning opportunities, which they are, your optimism is then refueled and those learnings become invaluable.

Mary Lou Ackerman:
So ask yourself, are you really innovating everything you do is successful? Likely not. But the true value comes from learning, looking at those failures as learning opportunities. So our failures have inspired us to do things differently through the development of an improved innovation methodology. So looking back at how we were doing things, so our new methodology includes a number of defined steps in each of these steps are dependent on the one before it. So, for example, if you’re not successful in step one, you don’t move on to step two. You fail fast. You learn quickly. You iterate on that solution or you move on to the next opportunity. With this kind of methods, much less time is spent on trying to be successful with fitting a square peg into a round hole versus just doing the right thing, right?

Saul Marquez:
Yeah. And I love what you said, Mary Lou, that if you’re succeeding at everything, you’re probably not pushing the envelope. You’re probably not innovating because you’re going to fail. And the things that we do are so personal and the best leaders are very invested emotionally. And those failures come, man, it’s hard.

Mary Lou Ackerman:
It is really hard, especially, you know, at the beginning. Innovation is very different than quality improvement. And I spent a bit of my time in my career doing quality improvement where you have all the data and you’re able to sort of it’s very predictable like these. You’re doing wrong. If we do these things, that should improve what we’re doing. But innovation is not so predictable. There are so many variables. There’s also this huge desire to want to make things work, especially at the beginning when you first come into working in the innovation space, it is so exciting. Everyone’s so passionate. All the entrepreneurs are so passionate about what they’re doing that you want to be passionate with them and you really want it to be successful. I probably spent the first year or more just trying, trying, trying to be successful versus recognizing that I’m pushing a square peg into a round hole and we’re not going to be successful unless we recognize our failures and learn from those and correct them in order to move forward or just recognizing that this one really isn’t is not going to be successful. So hopefully giving somebody the feedback or a group the feedback that they really are on the wrong path and they need to do a significant pivot in order to find the success that they’re looking for. For me it was probably one of my biggest setbacks, spent too much time wanting to be successful versus wanting to learn from each experience.

Saul Marquez:
Well said. And I also really like the distinction that you made between innovation and quality improvement. You could get quality improvement while innovating, but there are differences there. And, you know, a good mentor of mine told me, hey, you know, the more time you spend, the more expertise you get. You’re able to make distinctions. And it’s those types of distinctions, like you just mentioned, that really help move the needle. So I love it. I appreciate that example. Mary Lou, what would you say you’re most excited about today?

Mary Lou Ackerman:
Although this past year has been really incredibly difficult for all of us, the pandemic, the advancement in innovation and its impact on health care delivery models has increased more in the past year than it has in my entire health care career. We’ve seen this explosion in the adoption of virtual care, new business models with flexible funding, new partnerships, open arms and collaboration across all sectors of the health system. In other words, there’s just so, so many of our historical barriers to transforming health care have come tumbling down this past year. Really, our time is now to transform health care. We need to focus on our aging population who now more than ever want to remain in their own homes. We need to move from institutionalized care to health care anywhere, any time.

Mary Lou Ackerman:
With the advancements in health analytics, the possibilities for more personalized care models will help us move from what’s the matter with you? Approach to what matters to you, to helping individuals experience their best lives and really engaging our health care workforce along the way, making sure that their needs are recognized and we’re solving their problems with solutions that really work for them.

Saul Marquez:
Yeah, that’s key. And just keeping everybody inspired. That is providing the care to because it’s burnout. And now a lot of people talk about physician burnout, but you rarely hear about I mean, as much, you rarely hear about nurse burnout. But it’s a real thing.

Mary Lou Ackerman:
Oh, it’s a real thing for sure. And I think one thing I’ve also learned, working with nurses and as a nurse, they’re so busy and they don’t have time for us to be getting it wrong all the time. If we don’t engage them, we’re going to bring them solutions that don’t work for them. And their tolerance of us doing that is low and having to be low. Their focus is on patient care, so they’re happy to help and they want to be a part of this designing and developing these solutions. But if we don’t do it, we just bring them a solution and it’s the wrong solution. You have about 30 seconds before they say forget it, it’s to everybody’s advantage.

Mary Lou Ackerman:
Bring them into the innovation life cycle to bring them into developing the solutions if they’re expected to be the ones to be using them. And even if they’re not, even if there’s a solution that’s going to impact a patient experience, even though the nurse may not be the one going to be using the solution, her input would be invaluable.

Saul Marquez:
Amen. I love it. So true, Mary Lou. And for everybody listening, it is so true. Have you involved a nurse or a nurse team in the development of your solution? If the answer is yes, kudos to you. But if the answer is no, now’s the time. And maybe a tip here would be nice. So what’s the best way? How do you suggest that folks listening that say, oh, my gosh, I haven’t been doing this? How do they start?

Mary Lou Ackerman:
Well, there’s connecting themselves with the right peoples and the right group like SONSIEL has, you know, over four hundred nurses who are passionate about Innovation. If you needed to look external to find them. Internal within your organization, let the frontline staff know what your strategies are, where you’re moving forward as an organization. Listen to the nurses problems. What are the challenges they’re faced with every day and then bring those nurses together and give them the opportunity to find those solutions, to work on solutions. We can’t transform the health system without nurses. They are the hackers of what we call the supply closets. The McGyver’s on the front line. They know the problems. So we really need to bring them into creating those solutions. We say often is move the nurse from the end-user to the front-end-influencer.

Saul Marquez:
I love it. Well said, Mary Lou. So everyone just take action on this because it is certainly going to be something that is mutually beneficial. Everybody’s going to win. Patients will win. Nurses will win. And your company, your organization will win. Mary Lou, this has been awesome. I’ve enjoyed our discussion. The examples you’ve provided. Give us a closing thought. What should we be thinking about and what’s the best way for the listeners to get engaged with you and learn more about SE health care?My closing thoughts, we can’t transform the health system without nurses. It’s important that we stay focused on the problems we’re solving and make sure we’re solving the right problems, not just building shiny objects. We need to build confidence within our health care system. We need to be able to move from risk aversion to sort of this concept of intelligent-taking. And the only way we can really do that is really by taking a deep dive into those problems and understanding from those most knowledgeable in the health care system about patient experiences, which would be the nurses in order to build meaningful solutions. So I think if you’re looking to solve problems and create solutions as a nurse, get involved, raise your hand, look for that network, those people who are passionate, just like you, and that would be groups like SONSIEL. And participate in hackathons are great fun weekend activity where we bring SONSIEL organizes them, a couple of them a year, where we bring the last one had five or six hundred nurses from all that was virtual. Yeah, they form. It’s just amazing what happens in forty eight hours to people just bringing forward problems that they’re interested in solving to by Sunday, pitching really meaningful solutions. One of them that stands out to me was and this was right before the pandemic, I’m not sure how this company is doing, but I imagine if they forward with their idea, they probably are doing quite well now. Nursing and handwashing is has always been, or health care and handwashing has always been really important and more so through this past year. So they had this idea. One of the things you used to have to do when you were trained in nursing was you had to wash your hands for a minute or certain length of time. And what you did was you always you were taught to put a song in your sing Happy Birthday or something in your head, how long it would take that you have to wash your hands to know that they were clean.

Mary Lou Ackerman:
But for a nurse, that was always a bit of a challenge because you’ve just left a patient that was having a problem. You’re heading into an — So to trick your mind off and sing a song just wasn’t reasonable. You never stayed with the song. So there was to have this soap that would when you started using it, it was purple. And you knew what when you were done. It was white.

Saul Marquez:
Oh wow. It changed color.

Mary Lou Ackerman:
It changed color to let you know, you’re all clean and still keep your train of thought on health care. So it’s those kinds of things that get out of just bringing people together and having discussions and talking about how to solve problems. So, yeah, by the end of the weekend, there’s these big problems that have great solutions. And then not all nurses want to be entrepreneurs, but then there are some that do and they take those ideas and bring them to form businesses if they like. But even those like I say, there are groups of nurses who want to be entrepreneurs, but there are lots of room for nurses who want to innovate within their organizations as well.

Saul Marquez:
Fantastic. And it’s stimulating, right? I mean, you join one of these and you leave. Even if you don’t want to be an entrepreneur, you come back to your organization with new ideas.

Mary Lou Ackerman:
Yeah. So I would say, you know, if you’re a nurse and I’ve piqued your interest in sort of nursing and innovation, I would strongly suggest that they join SONSIEL. They meet other nurses just like them and they work for an organization that inspires them to find solutions and enables them to follow their passion.

Saul Marquez:
Well, I really appreciate today, Mary Lou, what you’ve done and sharing your message. You are certainly spreading hope and happiness. I’m glad you joined us today on this program. And folks, you could just go to OutcomesRocket.Health and type in SONSIEL, type in Mary Lou. You’ll find the show notes to this podcast in there, we’ll provide the links to SE Healthcare. sehc.com. And then we’ll also provide the link to SONSIEL so you can Learn more and get engaged. Mary Lou, thank you so much. This has been a lot of fun.

Mary Lou Ackerman:
Well, thank you. And thanks again for having me.

Saul Marquez:
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Things You’ll Learn

  • Seek out those opportunities to improve what is available today and to look beyond what is and look for what could be for the purpose of making that user experience the best.
  • Surround yourself with good people, people who are also inspired to disrupt our current healthcare system.
  • Our health system is starving for innovation. It’s also wide open for opportunity and a breeding ground for entrepreneurs looking to improve patient and health care providers’ experience.
  • Nurses are the most trusted professionals. They know what works and what doesn’t work for patients and their families.
  • Every digital health technology company should have nurses on their teams.
  • Work with partners to find the right solutions for people.
  • True value comes from learning, looking at failures as learning opportunities. We’re not going to be successful unless we recognize our failures and learn from those and correct them in order to move forward.
  • Learn the difference between innovation and quality improvement.
  • We cannot transform the health system without nurses.

 

Resources

SONSIEL Website: https://sonsiel.org

SE Healthcare Website: https://sehc.com/