AI, spinoffs & new partners among Sanford Health innovations

Innovation and commercialization team helps physicians and employee innovators

Two Sanford Health nurses face the camera while holding their invention, a black pad with a blue shield that says "Sternum Protect."

Sanford Health innovators in 2021 started several companies, licensed other ideas to new outside partners and created augmented intelligence tools to help patients, according to the innovation and commercialization team’s year-end review.

When a nurse, physician, advanced practice provider, researcher or other clinical or nonclinical employee has an idea that solves an internal challenge or improves patient care, they work with the team to develop, test and market it.

“Our innovation and commercialization function is something that Sanford Health, as a community health system, has that a lot of others don’t have,” said Kent Lehr, senior vice president and chief business development officer, who just finished his first year leading the effort.

“One of the neat things that Sanford Health has done over the years is invested in talent and expertise. We’re attracting a clinical workforce here because of the work we’re doing around providing our team members with resources and support to be able to take their ideas and commercialize them,” he said. “If we can take something that’s working really well internally, create a new partnership and commercialize it externally, that allows Sanford Health to make an imprint on the industry. Inside-out innovation is one of the things we’re focused on.”

Innovations by the numbers

Besides medical devices, software and other technologies, the organization’s innovators also have started developing new ways of using data and information to improve patient health.

Sanford Health’s primary goal is to be the premier rural health system in the country, and it’s using its innovation and commercialization efforts to help achieve that status.

Since its inception, the team has worked with 184 inventors and evaluated 253 invention disclosures. In 2021, it evaluated 29 invention disclosures, issued 11 patents, executed three license agreements and created three companies under the company’s new startup program.

The team is focused on novel products, tools, technologies and services that can have a direct impact on the organization’s people and the people it serves.

Sternum pad for open heart recovery

One of those spinoffs, D3D, came from sisters Angel Rollag, L.P.N., and Amanda Rollag, R.N., both Sanford Health nurses in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. They hope to start selling in 2022 a sternum pad that protects patients who’ve had surgery requiring a sternotomy, an incision made through the breastbone.

More than 700,000 people undergo open heart surgeries every year in the U.S. and have the procedure.

Patients are issued a pillow or blanket to brace and hold against the chest to cushion and protect the incision from the pain and pressure of coughing, sneezing or laughing. But that current process requires the use of hands and increases the risk of tripping or falling, limits the person’s mobility, requires constant holding or lifting and doesn’t adequately protect the chest.

The Rollags’ invention is called Sternum Protect. They worked with their father, Dale Rollag, to develop it after he had open heart surgery.

“He had a hard time not using his arms when he was getting up. He would grab things when he wasn’t supposed to. He was not very careful with his sternum, and he would laugh and it would be very painful for him. We just saw him struggle and knew that there was something better that could help him,” Amanda Rollag said.

Dale Rollag was killed in a 2020 Sioux Falls automobile accident.

“Our dad was truly the inspiration for the Sternum Protect pad,” Angel Rollag said. “We all brainstormed with him to come up with a makeshift solution at home to create a pad and improve recovery.”

They tied for third place and won $4,000 in April at the Governor’s Giant Vision entrepreneurial business competition and are currently finalizing a manufacturing plan and registering it with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Breakthrough device for vacular care

The FDA did deliver in 2021 one of the year’s highlights for the innovation and commercialization team by granting a breakthrough device designation to one of its inventions that fills an unmet need, a rare honor for a health system.

The device, the investigational aortic stent graft system invented by Sanford Health vascular surgeon and inventor Patrick Kelly, M.D., helps high-risk vascular disease patients who have no other treatment option. Other health systems are helping to study the device in a clinical trial, including New York University, Massachusetts General Hospital, University of Southern Florida, Vanderbilt University, The Christ Hospital and The Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Dr. Kelly in 2021 also licensed his pulmonary embolism (PE) catheter to startup company Liquet Medical Inc. Its leaders are raising capital and plan to commercialize the device and obtain FDA clearance.

And a drug-coated balloon he co-invented was licensed by startup company Tailored Medical Devices in Sioux Falls. Fewer diabetes and peripheral artery disease patients may lose their lower legs to amputation if the device works as designed.

Besides Dr. Kelly, the balloon was invented by Gopinath Mani, Ph.D., formerly of the University of South Dakota and contributing inventors Tyler Remund at Sanford Health and Sujan Lamichhane and Jordan Anderson, also formerly of USD.

Innovation unit contributions

Nursing practice specialist Heather Perez, M.S.N., R.N.-B.C., came up with an idea in 2021 that turned into the first legally protected intellectual property developed from the innovation unit in the Sanford Medical Center Fargo in North Dakota.

The unit, which opened in 2019, is one of the only departments in the country to incorporate patient care innovations that may be applied to a broader patient population. Its goal is to improve patient and staff experience as well as outcomes, reduce waste and increase efficiencies by evaluating new ideas.

The unit expanded to 32 beds in 2021 to help more patients through creative projects like the one from Perez.

She invented an electronic rounding dashboard that displays when each patient had their last hourly visit, or care round, from a nurse. It already has improved patient care. The innovation and commercialization team is exploring companies to partner with to further develop it.

Other ideas tested on the innovation unit in 2021:

  • The team created a huddle board in the nurses’ station that provides a visual overview of patient safety concerns and tracks safety metrics. It was spread to other Sanford Health locations in the Fargo region.
  • Nurse and clinical care leader Maria Diepolder, B.S.N., R.N., designed a small table that clips onto a bed or intravenous pole to maximize workspace without impeding patient space. She’s working with the innovation and commercialization team to develop prototypes.
  • Nurses on the innovation unit also will be trialing electronic displays that replace traditional whiteboards in each patient’s room. The boards automatically update based off care team documentation in the patient’s chart, providing the patient and their family with a real-time overview of their stay.

“We have to always be thinking about how we can provide care better, safer and more efficiently,” said Caitie Suhr, B.S.N, R.N., who took over management of innovation unit projects in 2021. “Nurses are innovators at heart and they’re catalysts for translating new practice skills to the bedside. They value nursing traditions but remain open and always willing to adapt to help our patients.”

Augmented intelligence in health care

Some of that patient care now comes in the form of bits and bytes.

The World Health Organization in 2021 put out its first guidance on the use of AI in health care. Doug Nowak, vice president of data analytics, said Sanford Health already works to comply with all six principles outlined in the document.

He also noted that Sanford Health’s investment in a data analytics team around 2015 paid off during the COVID-19 pandemic. That centralized team of analysts and developers created models that helped determine how many patients might need to be hospitalized, be on ventilators or need intensive care treatment. It also helped leaders know how much personal protective equipment the system would need and helped with managing staff levels.

Other tools the Enterprise Data and Analytics (EDA) team created to help patients:

  • Data scientist Clark Casarella, Ph.D., with input from provider champion psychologist Jeff Leichter, Ph.D., developed a model that uses changes in a patient’s medical history to try to predict their risk of developing three common behavioral health conditions: self-harm, psychosis-type events or chemical dependency.
  • Robert Menzie, lead data scientist, and Sioux Falls physician Scott Boyens, M.D., came up with an AI algorithm that can shows caregivers the probability someone has or might develop type 2 diabetes in the near future.
  • After seeing several younger women diagnosed with breast cancer, Chris Johansen, M.D., and manager Laurie Kruse, M.S., B.S.N., R.N., from the Edith Sanford Breast Cancer worked with advanced business intelligence analyst Austin Amdahl to create an algorithm that looks through medical records for clues about family history and flags high-risk patients for the provider.
  • Business intelligence analyst Max Weaver and Kevin Faber, M.D., chairman and medical director of sleep medicine in Fargo, developed a tool that scans medical records for dozens of factors that could indicate a patient suffers from obstructive sleep apnea, which afflicts 1 out of 5 Americans and contributes to a host of health issues.
  • Three Bismarck, North Dakota physicians — brothers John Miller, M.D., and Andrew Miller, M.D., and fellow radiologist Joshua Rampton, M.D. — are collaborating with the startup company Infervision to create software to help spot cancer in CT scans.

“Throughout 2021, we have worked with variety of departments and employees across the Sanford enterprise demonstrating that innovation can happen anywhere,” said Katie Pohlson, senior director of innovation and commercialization. “In 2022, we will continue to engage with our employees and caregivers in driving a culture of innovation at Sanford Health. We will also be focusing our efforts on identifying and evaluating strategic partnerships that help solve challenges for our patients, caregivers, and communities.”

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Posted In Brain & Spine, Digestive Health, General Surgery, Heart, Innovations, Neurology, Vascular

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