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Stanford explores use of digital tools to improve human health

Stanford explores use of digital tools to improve human health

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My husband is a self-described Luddite who insists technology is the bane of his existence and refuses to carry a cell phone. But when I bought him a smart watch for his birthday so he could count his steps, even he got hooked. This is a true sign that we’ve crossed over from predicting that the digital revolution in health care is coming to having entered into it.

In an article in the new issue of Stanford Medicine magazine on digital health, I present four ways that researchers here are exploring the use of technologically advanced tools to help fill in gaps in patient care. As Michael Halaas, Stanford’s associate dean for industry relations and digital health, says in my story, it’s important that these new ideas be “validated and thoughtfully introduced.” He also points out: “We remain focused on developing digital health tools that can improve health while keeping the human element that is vital to care delivery.”

In each of the stories I tell, putting the patient first remains front and center, as does the importance of collecting data and conducting research to ensure these new methods are indeed delivering on what they promise. In one of the stories, I describe how radiologists are testing the use of a hologram headset to assist surgeons in removing tumors. The hope is that the technology will aid in removal of just the right amount of cancerous tissue, preventing the need for additional surgeries if not enough is taken out, or unnecessary scarring if too much is removed:

‘It gives me X-ray vision,’ said [Amanda] Wheeler, MD, clinical associate professor of surgery who is participating in a pilot clinical research study of 10 patients that uses the new system. Prior to surgery, Wheeler puts on the headset, then uses markers to sketch the reflection of the hologram onto the patient’s breast. ‘It helps me plan the surgical site, making sure I’m getting as much accuracy as possible. I love it.’

In another story, an emergency room physician Ayesha Khan, MD, uses tablet computers to train community health care workers in underserved rural areas of Haiti and India. The training program is designed to save lives half a world away, and its inspiration comes from a very human story in Kahn’s personal life. My article explains:

Years ago, Ayesha Khan’s grandfather was hit by a semi-truck as he rode a bicycle along a road in rural Pakistan. With no emergency response system in place — no 911, no ambulance service — he lay severely injured by the side of the road until someone eventually drove by and delivered him to the hospital. After 30 more minutes, he died in the waiting room without receiving care.

Kahn’s research is showing that the program works. The community workers are successfully controlling bleeding, stabilizing airway obstructions, diagnosing and treating broken limbs, skin infections, fevers, diarrhea and much more. It’s a program that, perhaps, could have helped save her grandfather’s life.

Illustration by Bryan Christie

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