Biodesign fellows to develop health technology for aging adults

The 12 fellows will follow the Stanford program’s usual process of gathering information, identifying needs and developing solutions.

Paul Yock

The Stanford Byers Center for Biodesign has joined Stanford Health Care’s efforts to advance care for the aging population by selecting aging as the clinical focus for its 2016-17 Biodesign Innovation Fellows program. It was not a hard choice.

“Aging as a health issue is both an extraordinary crisis and opportunity,” said Paul Yock, MD, founder and director of the center. “It’s the single most interesting area for innovation we could have chosen.”

It also made sense, Yock said, “because aging gives us a way to shift from just fixing disease to looking at health — what will it take to keep people happy and healthy into their later decades.”

Stanford Biodesign, which celebrated its 15th anniversary this year, has trained more than 1,000 graduate students and nearly 200 fellows in the process of health technology innovation. Those trainees have gone on to found more than 40 companies and develop products that have benefited more than half a million patients.

This year, all 12 fellows will follow the program’s usual process of gathering information, identifying needs and developing solutions. But because research has shown that older adults generally want to stay in their homes, the fellows will spend time with people in their homes and in transitional care facilities, in addition to their traditional clinical immersion experience at Stanford Hospital.

Collaborating with Center on Longevity

The biodesign program is collaborating with Stanford’s Center on Longevity, which has given this year’s fellows “a treasure trove of people and ideas,” said Yock, a professor of bioengineering and of medicine.

This year’s fellowship program also reflects the biodesign program’s renewed emphasis on cost innovation, Yock said. “We’ll be looking at areas where, as a health system, we are spending enormous resources in ways that are not intelligent, effective or caring. Those are areas where innovation is necessary.”

We’ll be looking at areas where, as a health system, we are spending enormous resources in ways that are not intelligent, effective or caring.

The fellows are not told what their focus will be before they arrive at Stanford, and they have responded with great enthusiasm to working on health-care innovation for older patients. “Given the magnitude of our aging population, both in the U.S. and abroad, I am thrilled to address the needs in this area,” said biodesign fellow Eric Kramer, a mechanical and biomedical engineer. “I believe that our focus on value innovation, combined with what older people can teach us, will help us find meaningful ways to improve care.”

Vivien de Ruijter, MD, worked at an angel investment firm before being selected as a biodesign fellow. In conversations she had there, “the consensus was that the aging population is a global concern — and that there are broad opportunities to intervene and improve care.”

Already, Kramer said, he has begun to recognize the nuances of discovering the needs of an older population. “Some people need more help, but even they wanted to keep the conversation upbeat. Finding the right way to get people to open up and tell us about things that may be less pleasant will be part of the challenge.” 



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