Pushing the Boundaries of What’s Possible in Patient Care

The future of medical innovation, the future of improving human health, depends on the convergence of technology and information science in the biomedical and life sciences.

Lloyd B. Minor, MD
Lloyd B. Minor, MD

Otolaryngologists have a long history of pushing the boundaries to improve patient care and outcomes. Otolaryngologists conceived, developed, and use the most successful neuroprosthesis in history: the cochlear implant. Otolaryngologists developed fiber-optic technology to image the nasal pharynx, the same technology used in specialties as diverse as robotic surgery and pipeline inspection. Otolaryngologists pioneered surgical microscopes to push the boundaries of what was possible in otologic surgery. Will otolaryngologists continue to transform the future of medical technology and information?

“If you look at developments like mRNA vaccines, we are in the Medici era of biomedicine, the Renaissance Italy of biomedical discovery and development,” said Lloyd B. Minor, MD, Carl and Elizabeth Nauman Dean and Professor of Otolaryngology at Stanford University School of Medicine in Stanford, California. “We have vast amounts of health information about populations and about individuals available to us, and technology is enabling us to do things like remotely monitor irregular heartbeats using an Apple Watch. The future of medical innovation, the future of improving human health, depends on the convergence of technology and information science in the biomedical and life sciences.”

Dr. Minor will explore this growing nexus during the Howard P. House, MD Memorial Lecture of Advances in Otology, “Transforming Health Through the Convergence of Technology, Information, and Life Sciences,” on Tuesday from 2:30 – 3:30 pm (PT). The challenge, as Dr. Minor sees it, is less combining healthcare and information, but in leveraging the confluence to deliver actionable insights that impact patient outcomes, for all populations.

“We must use this next wave of innovation to address the social, environmental, and behavioral determinants of health that underlie roughly 70% of health issues and adverse outcomes,” Dr. Minor said. “Yes, that’s stretching a little beyond what we have traditionally considered as our roles as otolaryngologists. Yet, the innovations in our field have always come from thinking beyond our specialty. Think about surgical microscopy. Otologists of the time said ‘No, that’s not the way we do surgery, that’s not within the scope of ear surgery.’ And, of course, it totally changed the entire field of surgery, not just ear surgery. Similarly, we are now being called upon to think of ways to have impact beyond our specialty.”

Innovation doesn’t happen on its own, he continued. Based on his own discovery of superior canal dehiscence syndrome in the late 1990s and the development the first corrective surgical technique, Dr. Minor has focused on what he calls the four Cs of innovation: combination, collaboration, culture, and chance.

Combination, because he used techniques from multiple fields to establish the cause of the disorder. Collaboration, from his early work with radiologists and software engineers to adapt CT imaging. Culture, for the clear expectations he helped set at Johns Hopkins that faculty not only provide superior patient care but that they actively push their fields forward. And chance, because by sheer luck, his first patient had the clearest signs and symptoms of the as-yet unidentified disorder of any successive patients over the next 15 years.

“That discovery of superior canal dehiscence syndrome was dependent upon looking outside the traditional boundaries of the field,” Dr. Minor said. “And if we’re going to have similar impact in the future, we’re going to have to keep thinking outside the traditional boundaries of our field as well.”

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