Cook Children’s Opens Tech Zone to Increase Health Technology Know-How
If you grew up playing an early version of Super Mario Bros. on a Nintendo, you’re likely a digital native. Computers, personal gaming systems, cell phones and the internet have always been the norm in your world. Technology is a welcome connector, time saver and digital assistant, and navigating it is easy, almost instinctual.
But for those whose gaming experiences consisted of Pac-Man at the local arcade, technology isn’t so intuitive. For many, it can feel like a barrier in a world where everything from ordering takeout to scheduling a visit with a physician are increasingly pushed to online platforms. Learning to use these innovations can be intimidating and overwhelming.
Add a new medical diagnosis into the mix and the digital devices required for care can complicate an already difficult circumstance, whether you are tech savvy or not.
Cook Children’s Health Care System is hoping to change that with an inventive new service called Peaks Tech Zone, which opened its doors at Cook Children’s Pediatric Specialties - Prosper on October 1.
"We believe it’s the first of its kind in Texas," said Matthew Albers, assistant vice president of digital experience at Cook Children's. “We haven't seen any other pediatric locations with a space like this."
Peaks Tech Zone is a cross between a technology lounge and in-person help desk, complete with a self-service space and a consultation area for one-on-one assistance from a health technology advocate, or techspert. It’s a place where families can get guided, hands-on experience with devices and online applications recommended for their child’s care. Techsperts are on hand to teach parents and patients how to access and use these tools to better manage their health and personal health information. They’ll help Tech Zone visitors do everything from setting up their MyCookChildren’s patient portal so they can view their child’s medical chart to syncing their personal technology to medical devices and apps recommended by their child’s physician. Visitors can also learn how to utilize virtual care, telemedicine services and any new Cook Children’s innovation that helps them meet the health needs of their family.
A 98-inch digital coloring wall featuring the story of Cook Children’s beloved mascot, Peaks the dragon, gives kids a fun and creative activity to keep their attention while parents and caregivers work with techsperts. A technology-to-go vending machine allows families to purchase commonly forgotten devices such as earbuds, charging cables, personal gaming systems and tablets to make their hospital visit as comfortable as possible. Consumer-grade medical devices approved by Cook Children’s - Prosper specialists as potentially helpful in the management of a child’s care are also available for families to purchase from the vending machine.
Evan Wilkerson is Cook Children’s first ever health technology manager. Think of him as a personal technology guide whose focus is helping patients marry health care with the digital applications and devices that will help them along their health journey.
“I spent a long time working for a well-known technology company,” Wilkerson said. “That really helped me find what drives and motivates me, and that's truly helping others around me get the most out of themselves and their technology. What really drew me here was being able to provide these positive outcomes for our patients who may have just gotten some pretty bad or life-altering news. Anything that I can do to help support the community and make those outcomes better for them, that's what I'm here for.”
Peaks Tech Zone is the result of a Cook Children’s strategic initiative to create a digital experience for families that enhances their journey through the health system and empowers them with tools that help improve their health.
“We already know our families feel taken care of from a clinical standpoint,” said Lesley Wager, digital products manager at Cook Children’s. “But we want to make sure that they never feel abandoned from a technology standpoint. Peaks Tech Zone was designed to fill that gap.”
Physicians often recommend to patients digital devices necessary for managing their disease, like in the case of diabetes, where using a glucometer to test and track glucose levels is a must. Traditionally, patients have had to manually test and keep written logs of their levels to know the amount of medication they need to maintain a healthy blood sugar. Technology has automated this task with glucometers that connect to a smart device with testing and data tracking capabilities. These applications give physicians the ability to easily review their patient’s data, recognize trends in their numbers and use all of that information to make data-informed treatment decisions for the patient.
These are tools that physicians see as critical to patient care and health management but often do not have adequate appointment time or staffing to train families on the ins and outs of their use.
“If you have a provider who is spending a lot of time trying to just explain the technology, that takes away the opportunities to actually provide the care that they’re trying to give,” said Danika Meyer, EPIC application systems analyst at Cook Children’s. “This space is designed to be the face of the Cook Children’s digital experience so that they can get the tech support they need from our techsperts rather than having clinicians spend time in an office visit doing all of that.”
Over the course of eight months, a team consisting of clinical experts, internal tech partners, finance, construction and facilities personnel, Child Life specialists and Build-a-Bear friends from Cook Children’s main campus in Fort Worth worked together to design Peaks Tech Zone. They relied on feedback from physicians and clinical providers about the help they needed in making digital health tools accessible and usable for their patients.
“One of the most wonderful things about working on this project was the effort, collaboration, and dedication of multiple teams within the organization to fully execute something at this scale on such a short timeline,” Meyer said. “It couldn’t have gone live without the enthusiasm, partnership, and dedication of the multiple people who were integral to this project that also believe so heavily in our Promise.”
The team’s goal was to remove barriers like technology know-how and access with a space dedicated to both.
“I look at it as my responsibility to remove barriers for the customer and to be an extension of the health provider in teaching customers how to use these technical tools,” Wilkerson said. “Whether you're technically literate or not, it's my goal for you to get the most out of whatever application or whatever technology that you're needing to use. We're talking about increasing quality of life and whether you're good at electronics or not, shouldn't be the barrier there.”
It’s a service that levels the playing field in terms of health equity for all patients, whether they have technology at their fingertips or not.
“This isn’t just about technical and health literacy. It’s about health equity, too.” Meyer said. “We see this as an equity tool that helps us make sure these technology based health tools aren’t just available to those that find technology and innovation easily accessible, but to everyone.”
Whether you are a seasoned technology user looking to level up your use of applications that help you better manage your child’s health, or a beginner who needs help setting up an email address and logging onto the MyCookChildren’s patient portal, the Tech Zone is designed for you.
Peaks Tech Zone is currently open to visitors Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., with a break for lunch. Hours will expand as staffing increases. Consultation appointments with a techspert, available both in person and virtually, will be made through physician referral or via walk-in.
For more information about Peaks Tech Zone, log on to peakstechzone.org.