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In late April of this year, Mujtaba Ali- Khan, D.O., was in a meeting with other chief medical officers from across HCA Healthcare’s national system. As usual, the gathering covered a broad swath of topics, including hospital operations and COVID-19. But on this particular day, the conversation took an exciting turn.

“Our leaders asked us, ‘If you had a blank slate, what kind of technologies would you want in the next five to ten years?’” Dr. Ali-Khan recalls. “And I had to stop and really think about that.”

On one hand, Dr. Ali-Khan already has so much exciting data and tech at his fingertips, such as telemedicine and technology like SPOT, which allows physicians to predict and avoid sepsis. But with an organization as resourceful as his, he knows the future could look even brighter. Plus, even as he and his colleagues continue to manage the current pandemic, the future is on everyone’s mind.

“We’re going to get COVID-19 behind us,” says Eric Evans, the CEO of HCA Healthcare’s Corpus Christi Medical Center. “But the things we’ve learned are going to stay with us forever. That means we can provide so much more access to healthcare to the people who need it most.”

Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, Dr. Ali-Khan, Evans, and the many other dedicated, tireless leaders, physicians, nurses, and staff at HCA Healthcare’s Gulf Coast Division have focused on making their care as efficient as possible. By utilizing a wealth of data and focusing their efforts on innovation and flexibility, their hospitals across Houston, Corpus Christi, Brownsville, and McAllen have provided the effective, accessible healthcare Texans need now more than ever. And they’re just getting started.

Eric Evans is no stranger to emergencies. The seasoned healthcare leader is just over a year into his new role at Corpus Christi Medical Center as CEO, but the team has always benefited greatly from his preternatural calm in times of crisis. “When I was in Nashville, we had a tornado,” he recalls. “When I was in Washington, D.C., we had 9/11. When I was in New Orleans, we had Hurricane Katrina. Then when I was in Houston, we had Hurricane Harvey. But the thing is, when there are hurricanes, a pandemic, or any kind of crisis, it’s our job to go to work.

“It all comes down to this,” he adds, patting his chest just above his heart. “To do this work, you have to have this.”

“Innovation doesn’t always have to be revolutionary. Sometimes it’s just about doing the little things that make a patient’s stay more efficient and as smooth as possible.”

Dr. Mujtaba Ali- Khan, D.O., Division Chief Medical Officer

Evans moved to Corpus Christi just two months into the COVID-19 pandemic, and he immediately focused on reducing hospital populations while retaining the same level of care. In other words, he wanted to bring premier care as close to people’s homes as he possibly could.

“In those early days of COVID-19, there was a lot of fear about going inside hospitals,” he says, noting that tighter infection prevention protocols were immediately put into place at HCA Healthcare facilities. “And that fear still remains. We’re looking at access points as a key part of our strategy, and that means equipping urgent care centers and freestanding emergency rooms.”

It’s a strategy his colleagues in Houston are utilizing, too. Jim Brown, CEO of HCA Houston Healthcare North Cypress, has made efficiency a key goal for his staff and community. “We’re focused on enabling our ambulatory sites and making sure they have all of the staffing and resources they need,” Brown says.

He adds that the organization’s CareNow urgent care network became vital in the fight against COVID-19. “The urgent care environment seemed much less risky, and to be able to offer that environment in eighteen sites across Houston was a tremendous value for our community.”

Leaders like Brown, Evans, and their respective teams plan to make telemedicine and other efficient, accessible forms of healthcare the new normal. It’s also important, they say, to think about accessibility in terms of research and advancements and the patient care experience—data will be a big part of those future efforts.

“HCA Healthcare has always been data-rich, but we’re now leveraging the true scale of our size and scope,” Evans says. “That size and our data are going to drive pathways to the future.”

According to Evans, every HCA Healthcare physician or staff member has access to mountains of layered data. Dr. Ali-Khan and his team have benefitted from that data countless times. “We’ve accelerated our ability to use this data at the exact same moment we’re caring for our patients,” he says. He is particularly enthralled with an artificial intelligence platform called NATE.

“There’s a tool within NATE that allows us to rapidly assess ventilator data from thousands and thousands of patients,” Dr. Ali-Khan says. “Based on a patient’s height, weight, and gender, it tells us we should do X, Y, and Z. Otherwise, those types of decisions would take hours longer. That’s helped us reduce the probability of developing infections, reduce the time spent on ventilators, and ultimately save lives.”

“As opposed to building a model of the future, we want to be a catalyst for that future. The way we’re trying to do that is by accelerating change in areas we know it needs to happen.”

Brett Perlman, Center for Houston’s Future CEO

With technology like that already at his immediate disposal, it’s easy to see why Dr. Ali-Khan had to ponder what tech he wanted when asked by his leaders in that April meeting. Eventually, he had an answer: Whatever technology is going to make things easier for patients. That could be something as seemingly simple as radio-frequency identification (RFID) for physician badges. Every time a physician enters a patient’s room, a scanner would read the badge and immediately load the physician’s name, specialties, and other key data. Patients meet so many physicians, Dr. Ali-Khan says, that they often don’t know who exactly they’re talking to at any given moment. This additional information will immediately let patients know who they’re talking to and what kind of questions they should ask. Most importantly, it brings more humanity to the hospital.

“The hospital can be overwhelming for patients, especially during a time like this,” Dr. Ali-Khan says. “Innovation doesn’t always have to be revolutionary. Sometimes it’s just about doing the little things that make a patient’s stay more efficient and as smooth as possible.”

One of HCA Houston Healthcare’s main partners has been the Center for Houston’s Future. The organization delves into detailed data, examines future trends, and determines how those trends impact the local community. Since healthcare is such an integral part of Houston’s culture and economy (the industry remains the city’s No. 1 source of employment), the Center’s CEO, Brett Perlman, knows that future preparedness is the key to strong financial success for the entire geographic area. Perlman and his team share a vision espoused by legendary management expert Peter Drucker, who has said: “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

“As opposed to building a model of the future, we want to be a catalyst for that future,” Perlman says. “The way we’re trying to do that is by accelerating change in areas we know it needs to happen.”

COVID-19 showed us a different way of doing things, he adds. “I don’t think we’re going to go back to the old way of doing things, so the question then becomes, ‘What does the future look like?’” Perlman pauses, smiles, then adds, “And we have the power to make it bright.”

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