Anita Honkanen, MD

Recipient of MCHRI Biodesign Faculty Fellowship

Anita Honkanen, MD

MCHRI Biodesign Faculty Fellowship project concept: A way to support skin and soft tissues in immobilized patients in hospital critical care settings to decrease the incidence of pressure-related injuries

Working in the operating rooms at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford (LPCH) and Stanford Health Care (SHC), Clinical Professor of Pediatric Anesthesiology Anita Honkanen, MD, sees pediatric patients facing some of the most critical moments of their young lives. Dr. Honkanen ensures the child’s comfort and well-being as they undergo surgical and diagnostic procedures. Her experiences have compelled her to seek innovative solutions to improve patient experience and outcomes.

Dr. Honkanen was one of the 12 participants in the 2020 Biodesign Faculty Fellowship, who was funded in part by Stanford Maternal and Child Health Research Institute. Her past research has focused on outcomes research looking at the general area of pediatric perioperative services. “For a long time, I’ve been excited at the idea of the Biodesign Faculty Fellowship [giving] fellows the tools and exposure needed to put ideas into action and solve some of the health care problems we struggle with day to day,” she says.

Now, her Biodesign project involves finding a way to support skin and soft tissue integrity in immobilized patients. The goal is to decrease the incidence of pressure-related injuries, a common problem that patients experience during surgery as a result of intense or prolonged pressure from medical or other devices. Putting pressure in one spot over a long time can decrease the blood flow to that area, damaging the skin and underlying soft tissue and/or creating a sore.

Dr. Honkanen is well suited to exploring innovations in this area. In the operating room, she oversees the medical management and anesthetic care of patients throughout the surgery process. “Over the years I have had many ideas for possible solutions to problems in health care,” she says. She lists several potential areas of innovation including medication management and the development of operating equipment and supplies.

During the Biodesign process, Dr. Honkanen identified a need among patients who were immobilized in critical care settings and who could greatly benefit from a better solution to reduce pressure-related injuries. She proposed in her final Biodesign project a concept to alleviate pressure in the most vulnerable areas that can be used in both the operating room environment and critical care. 

Dr. Honkanen joined Stanford in 2003 and served as the chief of the Division of Pediatric Anesthesiology from 2006 to 2019. Currently, she splits her time between clinical care and administrative duties at the School of Medicine and Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative, and Pain Medicine.

Now having completed the Biodesign course, she plans to continue developing the project, working on prototyping and testing within Stanford School of Medicine and Stanford Children’s Hospital for iterative improvements. Eventually, her goal is to see a product come to market that will help solve this problem for patients, eliminating the majority of pressure ulcers related to immobilization. 

“I am hoping to identify potential solutions for problems that come up every day, understand how to choose those with the most possible impact for our patients and families and staff, and implement those solutions that can change lives,” says Dr. Honkanen.

This story is a complimentary piece to a larger article. To read the article, click here.