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Sanjeev Sah and his family were in the middle of a road trip when his one-month-old daughter fell ill and needed to be rushed to an emergency room. Sah remembers it vividly.
“We didn’t know exactly where we were, but we rushed her to a nearby hospital in Tuscaloosa, Alabama,” he recalls. “Here’s my child who we believed we lost, all sorts of clinicians caring for her and us, as parents, completely broken.”
Sah’s daughter recovered, but many parts of that ER experience have stuck with him. As a technologist who worked for Texas Children’s Hospital at the time, he recognized how technological gaps hindered the quality of care his daughter received.
“What I found troubling was that my child’s care was negatively impacted by technology that wasn’t working as efficiently as it should have,” says Sah, who now serves as the vice president and chief information security officer at Centura Health. “The technology didn’t come together to enable the clinicians to give her the best care.”
Since then, Sah has made it his mission to help build facilities with the kind of technology that can not only save patient lives but improve them. That’s been the focus of him and his team with the development of a facility touted as the hospital of the future: St. Francis Hospital InterQuest, a seventy-two-bed facility that will serve Colorado Springs and Northern El Paso County, both in Colorado.
Assisting the effort is Dr. Val McKinnis, Centura’s chief medical information officer (CMIO) and Sah’s clinical partner. “Her leadership and contributions have helped us achieve the quadruple aim with our hospital of the future,” Sah says. “This collaboration is something special.”
McKinnis has her own personal journey that’s informed her passion for technology, beginning with a PalmPilot that she used to access medical reference data as a student in the late 1990s. What started as a quest to lighten the load as a doctor has become a lifetime mission to serve patients and clinicians through innovative healthcare technologies, she notes.
As a family physician caring for underserved patients in a rural area during the beginning of her career, she was faced with limited diagnostic resources. McKinnis recalls spending night shifts visiting other hospitals and begging clerks to fax copies of test results, operative reports, and physician notes to let her provide appropriate care to acutely ill patients. Her frustration over the gap between frontline doctoring and healthcare IT inspired her career as a physician informaticist.
McKinnis spent her first few years on this path writing evidence-based order sets and leading her local hospital’s transition to computerized physician order entry. “It was an exciting time. We were learning that we could improve care for thousands of patients at a time by making it easy and safe for clinicians to do the right thing.”
Both McKinnis and Sah found success in their respective tech-informed careers, which unexpectedly prepared them for the surprise of COVID-19. “Suddenly the entire health system knew, often for the first time, the value of informatics and the hospital system IT department, as virtually every COVID-19 intervention required our expertise,” McKinnis recalls. “Launching programs like telehealth, remote patient monitoring, and mass vaccination would usually take months if not years of planning and testing—we had days.”
Those grim days deepened McKinnis’s commitment to transforming care through technological innovation. The pandemic highlighted the ways that hospitals were ill-equipped to provide the care required for such unprecedented emergencies.
“Most of the patients I cared for as a hospitalist did not know who was entering the room or what their role was,” she says. “They were often scared and alone and frequently did not understand their diagnosis or what was happening to them.” It was then McKinnis vowed to use this experience to design a ground-breaking facility that made tech a key asset, rather than a barrier, for excellent patient care.
Sah was the perfect partner, and St. Francis Hospital InterQuest began to take shape.
Patients will be equipped with screens displaying their clinical care team and tablets that allow them to adjust room temperatures and lighting as well as access lab results and other medical information. With the use of smart devices, applications, and cutting-edge integrated systems, providers will have an unprecedented ability to review patient information, take notes, examine images, make decisions about who to visit during hospital rounds, and evaluate whether the tools or team members they need are available for procedures.
Sah thinks about the hospital’s unique attributes from two standpoints: workflows and the tech innovations that enable them.
“A clinician has access to mobile tech and applications to have virtual and face-to-face interactions and where technology isn’t a barrier,” he says. “For example, we’ve fixed every room with touch displays at the foot of a patient’s bed so every bit of information the provider needs is right in front of them.
“We’ve also enabled every room with an integrated system that includes cameras, so a clinician can interact with that room to either care for the patient through that channel or introduce a multidisciplinary partner into the conversation to take care of the patient,” he continues.
As someone who’s seen technology evolve over a decades-long career, Sah says that seeing these capabilities come to pass is encouraging and inspiring. McKinnis agrees.
“We designed everything to give both the patient and the clinicians caring for them the right information at the right time,” she says, adding that she’s especially proud of the large monitors at the foot of patient beds which display the name, picture, and the role of each person entering the room.
“Such a simple thing really, but so transformative for that person sitting in the bed tethered to monitors, IVs, and tubes,” McKinnis explains. “We built this whole facility centered around the needs of our patients, their families, and the clinicians caring for them.”
Sah, who distinctly recalls the feeling of being in those shoes himself, shares McKinnis’s pride. “I felt my daughter suffer from not having the best care she could’ve had in spite of the best clinicians and personnel there,” he says. “Today, I can tell you with a high degree of certainty that if me or my family member was a patient in this facility, that challenge would be eliminated. We have taken a step further. A patient can experience the best possible care at this facility, and we also believe they will have the best possible outcome.”
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