Finding the Next Big Disrupters in Technology

From the cloud and mobile devices to the latest in robotics, healthcare’s renegades are riding a new wave of transformational technologies.

The University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Medical Center, which sits on a steep hill in one of the city’s foggiest neighborhoods, may be only 30 miles north of Silicon Valley, but for its researchers and clinicians, technology disruption starts on the home turf. Unwilling to wait for others to develop the same slick apps and technologies that consumers have come to expect, UCSF is finding success forging its own innovative path. “When you are on your computer doing your work and you get a FaceTime message on your iPhone from your kid who’s 3,000 miles away, you ask, ‘Why can’t we do this in healthcare?’ ” says Robert Wachter, MD, chief of the division of hospital medicine and chief of medical service. “Here, when we see gaps like that, we have the inclination to develop a tool to fix it.”

Inside the Telemedicine Boom

For telemedicine trailblazer Robert Groves, MD, his first recollection of the technology is an illustration in a 1950s magazine article showing a little boy interacting with a physician over a video screen. Most of telemedicine's history, says Groves, "has been that model, that on-demand, limited time-frame interaction that facilitates both trust between the parties and the ability of the provider to assess the patient more than they would be able to by a telephone conversation." Today, however, Groves oversees a telemedicine program that is a "radical departure" from this early vision. As vice president of health management at Banner Health, a nonprofit healthcare delivery system based in Phoenix, Groves runs a teleICU program that enables physicians and other clinicians to remotely monitor critical care units hundreds of miles away. Introduced nine years ago, the technology has done more than just provide telemedicine consults between board-certified intensivists and providers in far-flung outposts: It has changed the way the system delivers critical care services.

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