Healthcare Innovation from the Bay Area

Robots deliver tools and medications throughout the hospital. High-definition cameras allow remote diagnosis. Face-recognition systems permit nurses to securely sign into hospital systems without usernames and passwords. Sound like props in a sci-fi movie? Actually, they’re healthcare innovations developed and now in use in the San Francisco Bay Area.

As part of the Silicon Valley, the San Francisco Bay Area has long been known for technology development and creative thinking. Now the Bay Area is applying these skills to healthcare innovations. Among the leaders in this area is Kaiser Permanente’s Sidney R. Garfield Health Care Innovation Center in San Leandro, California. The center tests new technologies and workflow and facility designs. Its mocked-up clinical settings provide environments where new technologies can be tested safely.

Kaiser founded the Garfield Center six years ago. Since then, this 37,000-square-foot facility has brought together healthcare professionals, patients, technologists, and others to test technology, simulate optimum patient environments, and develop best practices in a living lab. According to Christi Zuber, director of Innovation Consultancy at Kaiser Permanente, even “successful failures” in testing are important. “By trying out solutions in a mock environment and finding out that they don’t work before we bring them into the hospital, clinic, or home setting, we are saving time, money, and frustration for nurses as well as patients.”

Kaiser’s Contributions 

The many innovations that Kaiser has tested at the Garfield Center include:

  • prototype patient rooms that create serenity through the use of hotel-like colors, textures, and fabrics and feature interactive flat-screen displays and motion sensors to monitor for patient falls.
  • nursing units with a triangular design to reduce the steps needed to move between patients, supplies, and assistance; delivery robots carry tools and medications to preset locations.
  • easily sanitized, medical-grade electronic tablets that not only improve bedside documentation but also have barcode scanners for medication administration, fingerprint scanners for accurate identification, and cameras to record the patient’s condition.
  • smart phones and other mobile technologies that are an indispensable component for telehealth and telemedicine outside the hospital.
  • cameras mounted in overhead lights in operating rooms that can document surgeries; different cameras allow surgeons to consult specialists thousands of miles away (high-definition monitors show real-time views of procedures; other technologies organize patient records, X-rays, and other information needed for successful surgery).
  • cutting-edge technology and treatment rooms centrally placed to maximize efficiency in clinics.
  • home care connected to the hospital and clinic by two-way, high-definition cameras that allow remote care, consultation, and even some types of diagnosis and via scales and other monitoring equipment that wirelessly transmits data to care providers.

Kaiser has already implemented many innovations tested at the Garfield Center. For example, MedRite, an innovation in medication administration, has been implemented in 27 Kaiser hospitals and has reduced medication errors. As Zuber notes, “Through trial and error, we are creating valuable solutions that make our patients’ lives—and the lives of those who care for them—a little better.” As testing continues, many more innovations are likely to make their way into mainstream health care.

Other Bay Area Contributions to Innovation

Elsewhere in the San Francisco Bay Area, others organizations have also been making their own contributions to healthcare innovation. Many of the goals set forth in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act are echoed in Bay Area efforts to innovate—using data to improve patient outcomes, empowering patients, ensuring connectivity, and lowering costs.

In Palo Alto, the Institute for the Future is launching a hospital project that draws on expert knowledge both inside and outside of health care through the institute’s online, brainstorming platform. Multidisciplinary experts reimagine the hospital of the future and focus on delivering care in nontraditional settings, such as in patients’ homes and communities.

San Francisco’s Health 2.0 uses prize-based competitions to find new sources of data, make information transparent, and create personal health tools. Initially, the organization was looking for apps that could improve health care by enhancing services and communications. Since then, innovators there have taken the idea further with Health 2.0’s Developer Challenges that reward innovation with prizes and have spurred advances.

At the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, the David Druker Center for Health Systems Innovation wanted to find ways to help seniors cope with age-related changes, so it created a contest—the linkAges Developer Challenge—to promote successful aging. LinkAges, which stands for linking across generations, aims to find practical solutions to detect early warning signs so caregivers and providers can stay ahead of a patient’s possibly declining mental or physical status. Winning solutions include a mobile app that lets service providers (such as Meals on Wheels drivers) send health updates on the older adults they serve and a sensor that monitors household utility use for deviations from normal (a sign of behavior changes in seniors).

Stanford University’s Clinical Excellence Research Center helps healthcare affordability experts design new care delivery models that reduce healthcare costs while enhancing patient outcomes and satisfaction. The center identifies the best performers in high-cost clinical areas, analyzes their performance, and designs new care models based on the data. Finally, the center works with technology companies and healthcare improvement organizations to simplify innovative care models and roll them out nationally. Last year, the center created care models for late-stage cancer and late-stage chronic kidney disease, colonoscopies, and low-risk bariatric surgery. This year, it is developing models for patients at risk for stroke and children with severe chronic illnesses.

Although all of these healthcare innovations have their origins in the San Francisco Bay Area, you can expect the best, most effective ones to come to a facility near you soon. And with them comes the promise of better patient care.

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