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Dr. Jay Chok Teams Up With Nonprofit Health System and Innovation Incubator to Address Key Challenges Facing Healthcare Workers in Transition to Telehealth

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically accelerated the adoption of telehealth and other digital innovations, which is a positive step towards more accessible healthcare. These changes, though, are not without their challenges.

Dr. Jay Chok, associate professor of management for Keck Graduate Institute (KGI)’s Master of Business and Science (MBS) program within the Henry E. Riggs School of Applied Life Sciences, has teamed up with a nonprofit health system and innovation incubator to tackle some of these challenges in the ALS 475 course, “Digital Innovation in Healthcare.”

Like many of KGI’s courses, ALS 475 offers students real-world experience while helping healthcare providers through the creative problem-solving and fresh perspectives that students provide. In this case, Chok and his students are working with Providence St. Mary Medical Center to address two key issues: helping elderly and low-income patients transition to digital technologies such as Zoom and providing translation services for telehealth appointments.

Chok’s class has also been working with Innovation Lab, which provides feedback on the students’ ideas, helps them formulate a viable business plan, and connects them with potential investors.

Though this is the first year that Chok has formally taught ALS 475, he has been developing the project for some time.

“It has been a journey, and the journey hasn’t stopped yet,” Chok said.

He conducted an initial brainstorming session in the summer of 2020 with Suzy Engwall, national director of Innovation Lab, and John Kozyra, chief philanthropy officer for Providence St. Mary. They then arranged for healthcare professionals from St. Mary High Desert Medical Group, led by Rached El-Hajjaoui and Dr. Mino Pham, to pitch their ideas to Chok’s students, who registered for the course in the independent research format in fall 2020 and spring 2021.

Next, Chok and his students followed up with the healthcare professionals from the original brainstorming sessions, using interviews to collect data to help develop the initial business model canvases.

“Because they are healthcare professionals and don’t necessarily have the business training that our MBS students do, they can provide some distance,” Chok said.

Gaining these perspectives helps students gauge the actual needs of healthcare workers and whether or not their ideas will be applicable in a hospital setting.

“We did these sessions with three groups of students before we formally launched this course,” Chok said. “Drawing upon these previous sessions helps students realize the value of design thinking and prototyping.”

Now, Chok’s ALS 475 students are refining these ideas and preparing a final pitch for Innovation Lab—a healthcare incubator owned by five major nonprofit health systems.

Chok values the unique perspectives that his students bring to the table. Kevin Maxkwee, MBS ’22, whose team is working on telehealth solutions for elderly patients, is from Indonesia. Like Chok—who’s from Singapore—Maxkwee has seen how the Asian healthcare system tends to adopt new technologies quickly compared to the U.S.

“In Asia, telehealth has advanced much faster than America, as there are fewer regulations,” Maxkwee said.

With COVID-19, however, the U.S. government moved quickly to remove some of these regulations. Now, the use of telehealth is more widespread, and many hospitals have moved from as few as 20 visits per week to hundreds or even thousands per week.

“What we didn’t anticipate was how much different segments of the population would struggle with this transition, particularly the elderly,” said Engwall. “My father—who passed away about three years ago—had difficulty even using a flip phone.”

According to Engwall, telehealth also presents challenges for translators, as visits are usually scheduled in 20-minute blocks. Sometimes the doctors don’t even realize they need an interpreter until they are on the call with the patient.

“Another issue is that sometimes, patients will have one of their kids help translate,” said Kozyra. “That’s problematic because most people don’t necessarily want their 11-year-old daughter to know their health issues and be involved in their medical care.”

Another ALS 475 student, Alexandra Anaele, MBS ’22, is working on business solutions for translation services. Having worked in assisted living communities and a hospital, she has directly witnessed the rapid transition to telehealth and its impact on patients.

“A lot of the residents were very technologically challenged, and we didn’t have extra staff to help them understand how to use Zoom and these other technologies,” Anaele said. “If they couldn’t attend their appointment, then it had to be rescheduled, which caused a lot of backlog and other issues down the line.”

Thus, KGI, Providence St. Mary, and Innovation Lab are collaborating to resolve these issues. When it comes to translation, ideally, healthcare workers would know in advance whether they need an interpreter for an appointment and seamlessly connect to translators around the world who understand medical terminology.

To help elderly patients attend their telehealth appointments, healthcare providers can offer more training for patients and low-tech solutions such as a TV screen with easy-to-navigate buttons. At the end of the day, though, the solutions must be economically feasible for the hospital.

“I always tell people that they can have the greatest thing since sliced bread, but if a hospital can fix something with a workaround or a piece of tape, they’re going to buy the tape because it’s more cost-effective,” Engwall said.

Therefore, part of the students’ presentation will involve pricing models and ideas on funding sources.

While the project’s primary goal is to meet the needs of St. Mary and the community it serves, if the solutions are successful, they could potentially be scaled.

“The innovator in me would love to see other health systems, whether regionally or nationally, pick up and use some of the platforms that we’re developing,” Kozyra said.

“Based on my knowledge of what’s going on in healthcare, we’re hitting on some pain points that don’t have optimal solutions. If we can provide these solutions, the sky’s the limit.”

Engwall and Matthew Keller, client engagement executive at Innovation Lab, are excited to see what solutions the students come up with.

“Overall, this has been a very positive experience,” Keller said. “It’s a great way to collaborate with the students and share our knowledge and experiences.”

Engwall reiterates this.

“The students are so bright and articulate, and I think they all have amazing futures,” Engwall said.

For the students, the project has been an enriching experience.

“I want to thank Dr. Chok for giving us this opportunity,” Maxkwee said. “As a student, it’s refreshing to see how much he cares about our learning experience. We’re not just absorbing information but actually giving back to the community.”