Updated on 9/15 to reflect the origins of the program.
The Welch Allyn-OHSU engineering rounds is a new platform at OHSU that allows medical equipment design engineers the chance to engage with doctors and patients. The long-term goal of this platform is to translate medical needs into focused innovations and eventually products. This platform was designed to allow both parties to utilize their respective expertise. OHSU offers the clinical expertise necessary to identify patient care problems and provide feedback on the practical applications of new innovations, while Welch Allyn offers the engineering expertise necessary to create physical solutions to the identified problems.
Three Welch Allyn engineers – Steve Baker, Ph.D., Rick Weitzel, and Cory Gondek – and Soundharya Nagasubramanian, director of software and systems architecture, participated in the pilot round of this program. They worked closely with OHSU’s Matthew Hansen, M.D., M.C.R., assistant professor of emergency medicine, and David Sheridan, M.D., pediatric emergency medicine fellow, to create the current program. The highly successful program stems from a strong partnership between Welch Allyn, TTBD, and the Oregon Clinical and Translational Research Institute at OHSU, with essential scientific leadership from OCTRI’s past director Eric Orwoll, M.D. It provides evidence of how much can be accomplished when multidisciplinary OHSU teams form working relationships with business partners.
In the earlier stages of the program, the primary goal for the engineers was to gain an understanding of the clinical context surrounding shared projects that were currently in development. Though after several meetings, the engineers saw that their goals expanded and became more open ended. “By the time we came around to kick off the engineering rounds, the goals became two-fold,” said Nagasubramanian. “One was getting more insight into our current projects, and the other was blue sky. ‘What are the other problems they are facing in the clinical area and what can we help solve?’”
By allowing engineers to ask questions and connecting them with physicians who are willing to steep them in a patient care environment, it opens the door to a wide variety of opportunities to improve medical care. “We see problems, but we’re not engineers,” says Hansen. “Engineers have a completely different background training and come at problems with such a different frame of reference, which to us is outside of our box. That allows us to find solutions to problems that we couldn’t have figured out on our own.”
The chance to observe, ask questions, and receive feedback is essential to engineers in any industry, but is typically difficult in the medical industry. Often times, engineers are granted access to “shadow” clinicians but are not allowed to interact with the physician or the patients. “I’ve shadowed before, but you’re pretty much a fly on the wall,” says Welch Allyn engineer Steve Baker. “In this program, we have active management. We have two doctors who are there helping us see the cases that are most relevant to our projects, helping make sure that we understand what’s going on, and that we understand the issues that the clinicians are facing at that instant.”
By structuring the program based on the clinicians needs, the doctors are more passionate about seeing the innovations succeed and the engineers can gain a better understanding of the products that need to be developed. “I think the reason that this worked out so well was that Welch Allyn came to our department and asked ‘What ideas do you guys have?’ rather than ‘here are our ideas, can you help us with them?’” says Sheridan.
When asked how their respective institutions or departments will be impacted by this collaboration, Hansen said, “Hopefully we’re creating a model that other people can follow. I hope our department, through this collaboration, can become a leader in technology development. It’s not a very common theme for people in our specialty to do technology development, but there’s an incredible need. There’s a mismatch between what we do on a day-to-day basis and how we’re involved in finding solutions to the problems.” He said, “To me, the ultimate success is when something we’ve worked on goes into the hands of a doctor and makes the care of that patient better.”
For questions regarding the Welch Allyn-OHSU engineering rounds, please contact Trish Pruis, TTBD alliance manager, at email@example.com.