The Center for Digital Health Is Open for Business

Lauren Cheung, MD, MBA

Mintu Turakhia, MD

Sumbul Desai, MD

Recent conversations with architects of the School of Medicine’s new Center for Digital Health painted a picture of how the center will address several questions: How useful are digital tools in today’s medical arena? How can they be incorporated into clinical practice? How can patients figure out if products designed for them work or are worth the price? Those architects are Sumbul Desai, MD, a clinical associate professor of general medical disciplines; Lauren Cheung, MD, MBA, a clinical instructor of general medical disciplines; and Mintu Turakhia, MD, an assistant professor of cardiovascular medicine.

Desai described three situations that led to the creation of the center: “First, faculty were being approached by tech companies interested in health care, but there was no mechanism to track that work back to Stanford. They were working with these companies on their own, often without the resources or expertise the school offers nor working with other faculty with complementary expertise. Second, we noted a lot of interest around digital health and medical education and training: How does the next generation of physicians make a mark in this space? Third, after implementing digital health initiatives on the hospital side, Lauren and I were often called upon by startups and other health systems to explain how we did what we did. We wanted to leverage that interest and generate more opportunities for the faculty.”

The center, according to Cheung, “provides an opportunity for us to build infrastructure and resources to enable collaboration between faculty and industry. At Stanford we are blessed with the School of Engineering, the School of Design and the Graduate School of Business in addition to the School of Medicine and others, and we’re right here in Silicon Valley. But we’ve lacked a way to connect faculty to the work being done outside the academic institution, especially in digital health.”

As a cardiologist with expertise in atrial fibrillation, Turakhia wants to generate data that support digital health interventions for cardiovascular disease. “We generate evidence ranging from technology assessments and implementation studies to full-scale multicenter trials working with experts across the university. My role straddles the Center for Digital Health and the Stanford Center for Clinical Research (SCCR),” he says.

Two trials that Turakhia is spearheading combine the two centers. The first is an observational study looking for undiagnosed atrial fibrillation with wearable patch ECG technology rather than a Holter monitor. The second is a randomized trial in afib patients to see whether an app plus a care team is better than usual care in improving adherence to newer anticoagulants. “My goal is to execute studies quickly and inexpensively,” he says.

The center has three approaches to addressing the needs of Silicon Valley industries while engaging Stanford faculty in interesting and rewarding collaborations. Desai describes them:

  1. Faculty Engagement and Consultation. We connect our faculty to companies while decreasing the burden on them to figure it out on their own. We envision the center serving as a connector joining Silicon Valley to Stanford.
  2. Education. We want our faculty to become thought leaders in the precision health initiative. We will train the next generation of physicians to become leaders in digital health via fellowships, internship opportunities, conferences and traditional education methods. And we will offer educational programs to startups and other outside companies.
  3. Research. We answer simple questions about digital health tools and interventions: “Does it work?” “Does it improve value?” And we validate digital health tools by creating a research validation method, leveraging the SCCR.

Look for exciting results from the new center.