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Tech Challenge Aims to Quash Readmissions

Scott Mace, for HealthLeaders Media, April 17, 2012

I've attended hundreds of Silicon Valley technology conferences, but last Saturday was the first one led by a hospital executive determined to disrupt how tech improves patient health.

Paul Tang, MD, is vice president and chief innovation and technology officer at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation (PAMF), a Sutter Health affiliate with 1,200 physicians in Palo Alto, CA.

What Tang is doing challenges our conventional thinking about how technology gets developed in healthcare, by borrowing from techniques that are all around Silicon Valley.

Tang has issued a challenge to developers: Create a low-cost, hospital-backed social safety net for seniors.

"The hard part about doing these new things, these disruptive innovations, isn't really about coming up with the ideas," Tang told a packed room at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif. "It's really about getting the old ones out."

In a study released six months ago, Tang said, a review of 26 readmission prediction models, two found that perceived social isolation—rather than actual isolation—was a more important determinant of bad outcomes than any objective measure of social isolation. Individuals with adequate social relationships have a 50 percent greater survival rate than those with poor or insufficient social relationships. It's as big a factor to survivability as smoking cessation.

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