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Dr Sara Horst Shares Current, Future Improvements to VUMC’s Digital Health Systems


Sara Horst MD, MPH, FACG, discusses recent improvements she helped make to the Vanderbilt University Medical Center's (VUMC) digital health systems and what changes she plans to help implement in the future.

Sara Horst MD, MPH, FACG, shares improvements she helped make to Vanderbilt University Medical Center's (VUMC) digital health systems and those she is planning to help implement in the future. Horst is an associate professor at VUMC within the division of gastroenterology, hepatology, and nutrition; the ambulatory director of the VUMC Telehealth and Specialty Pharmacy; and associate vice chair of digital health operations of the Department of Medicine.


What improvements have you helped make to VUMC’s digital health systems, and what changes are you planning to implement in the future?

I think we've made some progress. I think there's a lot of things we can do. In telehealth, we implemented a new video telehealth platform to make it even easier for patients to engage, and we've seen improvements in connection. There are recent reports that telehealth, across the country, the numbers are actually decreasing a little bit, but at VUMC, we've actually increased that by 5% in the past year.

We're also looking at other strategies for digital engagement, such as e-visits, asynchronous care, modules where patients can get care for set diagnoses, such as a urinary tract infection and things like that. Other institutions have also implemented things like that.

I think we really need to think about other ways, even when a patient's in clinic, to do more with digital health. We're looking at enhancing our virtual check-in, trying to continue to enhance online scheduling options so that patients can even get more involved in the care, and streamline this across the institution.

We really need to push the envelope on this because you do have options within health IT to enhance clinical care work streams. Just as a small example, I'm working with our hospitalist teama on a work stream so that a patient who comes in the hospital with severe ulcerative colitis has a management pathway that can be started in the Emergency Department and continued through their hospitalization, even before I as a consultant get involved. I think these are really important strategies for the future.

I think the next 5 years are going to be really interesting and exciting. I think, obviously, one of the things that people are thinking a lot about is AI [artificial intelligence] and how this could be implemented within patient care. I think we're doing it very carefully at our institution, and we're proceeding with a great deal of caution. The opportunity for something like AI to synthesize a patient-doctor conversation into a clinic note and order the plans back to the patient is really exciting. Utilizing things like virtual nursing for patient care when we're in critical staff shortages. These are things that I think our hospital system and others are really going to be pushing for in the future, as well.

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