Innovator Spotlight Q&A Series: Jarone Lee, MD, MPH
The Center for Innovation in Digital HealthCare Innovator Spotlight is a Q&A series that celebrates innovative ideas, highlights the important work that digital health innovators are doing to advance patient care and outcomes at Mass General Hospital, and shares key learnings about the innovation journey.
We are pleased to feature Jarone Lee, MD, MPH, Associate Professor, Harvard Medical School, and Medical Director, Blake 12 ICU, Massachusetts General Hospital.
Q: Tell us about your innovation/work in the telehealth space, and the challenge(s) you were trying to solve.
JL: The humanitarian crisis in Ukraine has affected over 18 million people and will only continue to grow and worsen. While there is a tremendous amount of support from NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and different agencies already, I believe that there is still a huge gap that can be closed with telehealth – or, more broadly, a digital health response. While the traditional model of sending clinicians into the field will always be needed, the COVID pandemic has shown us that telehealth platforms can rapidly deploy and scale to support hospitals and populations. There are now multiple, low-cost telehealth platforms that only require a smartphone or an internet connection. Why not take these lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and apply them to the current Ukraine crisis and other humanitarian relief efforts?
Our digital health response to support Ukraine from the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Global Health not only includes telemedicine but also offers educational sessions for Ukrainian clinicians. For example, in partnership with other institutions and NGOs, we support regular, remote educational sessions between U.S. and Ukrainian clinicians. These sessions have been well attended by 70-80 Ukrainian clinicians.
Q: The process can be long and challenging, but also rewarding. What inspired you to begin this journey?
JL: Yes, I fully agree, and the story of telehealth and telemedicine is a long and storied one, where telemedicine was thought of as a side hobby before COVID. One of the silver linings of the COVID pandemic is that it launched telehealth into the spotlight and showed how telehealth could improve access to care, reduce specific disparities, and scale to support a global event. I became interested in telehealth during a hurricane deployment where I was one of the few physicians working in the disaster zone. Having remote access to colleagues was immensely helpful, enabling me to bring the entirety of an academic, tertiary care system to an austere, resource-limited environment. More recently, through Dr. Julian Goldman’s MD PnP lab here at MGH, I got involved in a new federally-funded tele-critical care program to support our nation’s COVID response. This program, called the National Emergency Tele Critical Care Network (NETCCN), continues to be active and has supported over 40 hospitals, and the state of Vermont. Personally, my experiences in disaster response and telemedicine seemed to synergize well to help build something that could support Ukraine and other disaster response needs
The COVID pandemic has shown us that telehealth platforms can rapidly deploy and scale to support hospitals and populations..
Q: Please tell us about your overall experience and some of the major milestones you’ve achieved so far? What are the next steps?
JL: Building a digital health response has unique barriers and considerations. To name a few, the technology must be vetted, tested, and secured, especially with the active cyberwarfare in Ukraine. Similarly, we had to ensure our volunteers were protected from liability. Next, we also had to ensure that we could offer telehealth support to Ukraine and neighboring EU-based countries. Ukraine, the EU, and the individual countries all have different and separate rules, regulations, and considerations. For example, the EU has extensive privacy laws beyond our regulations here in the U.S.
At this time, I am happy to report that we have worked through many of these issues. The Ukrainian Minister of Health has officially invited foreign groups to offer telehealth services. We recruited over 70 clinicians to staff our telehealth program. Our malpractice carrier, CRICO, will protect physicians offering telemedicine to Ukrainians associated with this crisis. Lastly, we are partnering with an EU-based NGO called Health Tech without Borders (HTWB) to work through the tech and regulation-related concerns in the area. HTWB has seen over 15,000 patient encounters and sees about 1,000 patient encounters per day within Ukraine.
At this time, we are ready to start and will focus on clinician-to-clinician consults across two major domains: (1) supporting U.S.-based clinicians deploying with NGOs in the field; and (2) supporting Ukrainian clinicians. We will also continue supporting HTWB’s response.
Q: What resources have been most helpful to you, and that you think other MGH innovators would benefit from?
JL: Implementing a digital health platform for humanitarian relief or any other focus requires collaboration across many clinical and non-clinical domains. I would say that the resources most helpful to me have been my colleagues, friends, and mentors. For any large-scale project, especially if it is unique and new, please remember that none of us are alone. The people around you will be the key to your success.
Q: What advice would you give to other innovators at MGH that you wish you had been given early in your innovation journey?
JL: My advice to other innovators is not to get discouraged by setbacks. Sometimes it will take both patience and persistence.