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El Camino Health Celebrates 60th Anniversary, Track Record of Innovation

Analysis  |  By Christopher Cheney  
   November 10, 2021

The Mountain View, California-based health system helped develop one of the first electronic medical record systems.

As El Camino Health marks the health system's 60th year of operating in the Bay Area of California, the health system is celebrating its history of innovation.

Innovation has been a hallmark of the healthcare sector for more than a century. Innovation has driven advancements in a range of medical areas, including medical technology, surgical techniques, and patient experience.

It is critical for health systems and hospitals to be innovative, says Deb Muro, chief information officer at El Camino Health, which features two acute care hospitals.

"You are not going to be able to survive, thrive, and grow if you are not innovating. We all know that healthcare does not provide the best experience for patients—we know that we must innovate to get better. We have opportunities to do things better, and the only way to do that is to do things differently. Innovation is the way that we can make that happen," she says.

El Camino has a lengthy innovation track record:

  • In the late 1960s, El Camino Health collaborated with Lockheed Martin to develop a computerized physician order entry system. The system was implemented in the early 1970s and became the precursor to one of the first electronic health records.
  • El Camino Health participated in the development of MitraClip, a medical device that uses a catheter-based approach to repair the mitral valve in a beating heart. MitraClip has revolutionized therapy for mitral regurgitation and received Food and Drug Administration approval in 2013.
  • In 2014, El Camino Health was one of first hospitals in California to perform a new, minimally invasive aortic valve procedure using the Medtronic CoreValve System.
  • In 2019, El Camino Health's interventional pulmonology program was the first in the world to perform a robotic lung nodule biopsy commercially. Since then, El Camino's Ganesh Krishna, MD, has published findings showing that the use of robotic-assisted technology leads to more accurate diagnoses and more successful removal of hard-to-reach lung nodules.
  • In 2019, El Camino Health became the first hospital in California to perform bronchoscopic lung volume reduction, a minimally invasive procedure for severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

One of El Camino Health's newest innovations gives patients the ability to communicate with the health system that they are on their way to the emergency department, Muro says.

"First of all, the patient can go on our website to see how long it will take for them to be seen in the ED. Then the patient, at that moment, can communicate that they are coming, along with a brief description of what is happening with them so we can be prepared when they arrive. We are in our infancy with this initiative, but there is so much that we can do with being able to be predictive. In other words, we do not only want to know what is going to be happening in this moment, we want to know what is going to happen in an hour, four hours, or 24 for hours in the future," she says.

'We have innovation in our DNA'

El Camino Health is committed to innovation as an organization, says CEO Dan Woods. "It is part of the culture of being in Silicon Valley. The people who live in this area have a mindset of new ideas and being innovative. So, innovation is fostered and nurtured within the community and the people who work at El Camino."

Innovation is deeply rooted at El Camino Health, Muro says. "We have innovation in our DNA. We love innovation. We take care of Google patients. We take care of Apple patients. We take care of high-tech industry patients. Innovation helps us to deliver great care and to differentiate us in the community."

There are several factors involved in promoting an innovative culture at health systems and hospitals, Woods and Muro say.

"You cannot be afraid to lead. Sometimes, hospital folks have a tendency to follow. You also need to heed the perspective of the consumer. We as healthcare leaders have a tendency to look at our problems through our own lens and through our own operations, as opposed to looking at our problems from the consumer perspective. You should not try to boil the ocean. Sometimes, hospitals and inventors feel they have to solve moon shots. You need to just try to move the dial one notch. That movement of one notch can start additional waves of innovation, like a pebble into a pond. In promoting innovation, you need to identify a problem or a friction," Woods says.

Fostering an innovative culture at a health system or hospital requires linking innovation to the goals of the organization and having a keen awareness of the market, Muro says.

"You need to place those goals front and center, then you need to determine how you can move the dial to achieve your goals. You need to think about doing things in different ways. Some of it is educating ourselves and going out into the market to see what opportunities are out there. We partner with startups. We partner with our technology vendors to see where they are going," she says.

Achieving innovation at a small health system or standalone hospital

When it comes to innovation, El Camino Health has several characteristics that have enabled the organization to succeed despite its relatively small size, Woods says.

"There is a high willingness to embrace change, which is related to accepting new ideas. There is a willingness to accept failure and to learn from failure. Finally, part of the reason I came to El Camino is because it is a smaller organization that is nimble. I wanted to use that nimbleness to our advantage. We can get things done much faster than larger organizations. We have tech companies that have come to us because we respond with a 'yes' or 'no' much faster than any of the large academic medical centers in California," he says.

Muro offered advice for other small health systems or standalone hospitals that want to aggressively pursue innovations.

"In a small organization, it is critical that you run the business well. Sometimes, the margins are tight, so you want to make sure that innovation helps financially, helps to drive growth, helps with quality, or helps improve the patient experience. If you can achieve those goals, it is an easier road," Muro says.

Christopher Cheney is the senior clinical care​ editor at HealthLeaders.


El Camino Health has embraced the innovative culture of Silicon Valley.

To succeed in innovation, health systems and hospitals cannot be afraid to lead, must heed the perspectives of consumers, and should target incremental change, El Camino Health's CEO says.

When it comes to innovation, relatively small health systems and standalone hospitals have the advantage of nimbleness compared to larger organizations.

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