Next Generation is a BWH Clinical & Research News (CRN) column penned by students, residents, fellows and postdocs. If you are a BWH trainee interested in contributing a column, please email email@example.com. This month, Brian Park, MD, a resident in Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine, shares his experiences working with the Brigham Digital Innovation Hub (iHub), where he recently completed a two-week rotation to learn more about digital innovation – one of his passions – at BWH.
Growing up, I idolized Tony Stark (also known as the fictional superhero, Iron Man) for his knowledge and use of technology to help those around him. He not only created a flying exoskeleton and artificial intelligence, but also a new element to power his reactor (Iron Man’s power source), and an anti-gravity device. I was fond of his industrious spirit and strove to be a techno-cowboy as well. My medical school was filled with tech-savvy millennials whose different learning styles were acknowledged with multimodal learning platforms. We took exams on iPads and used an in-house app that integrated lectures and notes, yet we never learned how to adapt this technology in patient care. We partnered with patients and empowered them to improve their health outside the hospital. These interactions sparked ideas for apps and devices, but I could only dream of developing something like Medumo, a startup that uses short message service (SMS) to guide patients through their care outside the hospital. I wondered whether health care was another system too complex to integrate rapidly advancing technologies. Or perhaps it was just the lack of a technophile mentor or entrepreneurial culture around me that hampered me from pursuing these ideas.
In June 2018, I followed Iron Man’s path to the northeast (in the comics, Tony Stark enrolled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at age 15). On the other side of the Charles, I started my residency in a field where perioperative safety and outcomes vastly improved after establishing what is essentially an automated record-keeping system. As part of the categorical anesthesiology program, I’m offered three elective blocks during intern year to explore opportunities for professional development. The options were largely inpatient subspecialty services, while others included working in hospital operations, guideline development or animal health care at the zoo. I was tempted to spend two weeks with gorillas and red pandas, but I chose to spend my time at the Brigham Digital Innovation Hub (iHub), a resource center for innovators at BWH that supports internal innovation and leading-edge digital solutions to create a hospital of the future. As a de facto medicine intern this year, I’m excited to work with patients and package inspired ideas into deliverable products.
When I walked into the iHub Open Innovation Studio on my first day, I was transported into a Silicon Valley-like workspace. The walls were bright blue and green. Large white boards covered portions of the walls with timelines, checkboxes and neon Post-it notes. Snacks and iHub swag sat on the large conference table in the middle of the room. Floor-to-ceiling windows extended the openness into the hallway. I felt my inner Tony Stark brimming with excitement. If you enjoy this kind of setting and health care innovation, this elective is for you!
The two weeks I spent with the iHub were planned based on my specific interests in digital health. Generally, I was invited to actively participate in meetings and calls related to their day-to-day operations, such as screening startups, planning events, evaluating ideas and developing strategies. Through several screening calls, I found that a clinical background is useful in scrutinizing the clinical significance of proposals that some startups promise. During one meeting, I met a BWH anesthesiology resident who works with Medumo, a product of a local digital health startup challenge, that has partnered with BWH and Massachusetts General Hospital to help scale their product. I’ve also connected with individuals in the clinical informatics community who offered opportunities to get involved during residency and insights into the fellowship.
My project with iHub involved developing one of the team’s core focuses in voice technology in the hospital. Given the advances in machine learning, voice recognition has rapidly improved in recent years and become part of the digital health trend. Thanks to the open-source platform and investment funds, Amazon’s Alexa has been widely used in the health care setting. However, the biggest hurdle to expanding its usefulness in the hospital is HIPAA compliance. Interestingly, iHub has already integrated the Amazon Dash button technology to allow people to notify Environmental Services that the restroom should be cleaned with the press of a button. It’s not always about creating new technology, but sometimes rethinking how current technology is used.
What I love about innovation in health care is that it directly impacts patient experience and health outcomes. Brigham offers many resources to navigate through this complex landscape (and, quite literally, the hospital itself). Many mentors, opportunities and resources are available to explore digital health at the Brigham, and the iHub is the perfect elective to start as a trainee. The elective establishes a framework to understand early-stage planning of digital health products, and the feasibility to be developed and adopted in a hospital.
Through the elective with iHub, I’ve come to appreciate the challenges of integrating digital health solutions into patient care. It’s not the work of one genius, like Tony Stark, that creates a hospital of the future. Rather, the hospital of the future is made up of passionate individuals, like those I’ve met and worked with at iHub, and compassionate providers who are inspired every day by our patients. We work together, in a culture of innovation, to continuously improve hospital experiences and health outcomes. Although I’m riding the roller coaster that is intern year, I hope to use this experience next year in anesthesiology training to transform how population health can be addressed in perioperative medicine.