Collaborative Teams Building the Future of Health Care

Rochester, Minnesota - Those of us who have sought medical care at Mayo Clinic may have witnessed first-hand the “miracles” that happen here. We see nurses, physicians, pharmacists, therapists…whole teams of practitioners working together to turn around even the most dire diagnoses. We see the cutting edge procedures that save lives, and probably the most impactful of the Mayo brother’s vision that still lives today, integrated teams of physician and research specialists working side-by-side discovering solutions for patients every day.

What Mayo patients likely don’t see is the cadre of innovative experts — working in labs and workshops far from patient bedsides — who also are part of the integrated team, supporting our providers and engineering systems and innovations that medical staff use in those lifesaving miracles.

Mayo Clinic’s commitment to collaboration likely stems from Dr. Will Mayo’s pioneering vision of integrated group practice. Instrumental in advancing this vision was Dr. Henry Plummer, a young physician who was recruited to join the Mayo brothers in 1901. The Mayo brothers were impressed by Dr. Plummer’s extensive medical knowledge as well as his passion for engineering, and his work often exhibited a seamless melding of the two.

Today the inventive spirit and integrative approach Dr. Plummer brought to Mayo has become the norm, with experts from disparate fields routinely working together to improve patient care. Many of these experts work in Mayo’s Engineering Department. Kevin Bennet, Chairman of Division of Engineering, highlighted just a few of the state-of-the-art devices that have been created in his department during his Transform 2010 presentation.

Recently, Mayo engineers worked with brain surgeons as they explored the potential of deep brain stimulation. They knew that inserting an electrode in a patient’s brain could interrupt cells that cause tremors caused by diseases like Parkinson’s and stop the tremor. The procedure requires meticulous precision in placing the electrode and avoiding veins and arteries, but the electrode tip has a tendency to degrade, eroding its accuracy. They needed the kind of precision that a diamond-coated tip would afford them. But it didn’t exist.

The response from the Division of Engineering? According to Bennet, the answer was, “We can do this.”

In four weeks, they had built a diamond reactor. And four hours after they turned it on, they had their first diamond.

This surgery that neurosurgeons are now able to perform has allowed a man with Parkinson’s, who was barely able to shuffle his feet, to take to the dance floor with his wife, gliding her in a fluid waltz. A professional musician in Minneapolis whose tremor interfered with his ability to play the violin has returned to his profession as a concert master.

From concept design to custom fabrication, from embedded microprocessors to engraving, the engineering department continues to work with Mayo’s medical professionals to ensure that miracles will continue in the future of health care.

The annual Transform symposium  provides a venue for sharing inspiring stories and innovative ideas that can transform health and health care delivery. Sponsored by Mayo Clinic’s Center for Innovation, Transform will be held in Rochester, September 7-9, 2014. Register today!

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