The center is tuned to the needs of people with neurological conditions or injuries such as brain tumors, movement disorders, brain aneurysms, spine deterioration, Parkinson’s disease and memory disorders.
December 11, 2015 - By Sara Wykes
Chris Bjornson, diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2008, does not have good memories of getting to his medical appointments at Stanford Health Care. The damage done by his disease to his muscle control and coordination means he must walk as if he might fall with his next step — and he has.
Crowded or narrow hallways, changes from carpet to tile, and long distances between one place and another are daily threats to his stability. “I had to mentally prepare myself to go to appointments to be ready for those challenges,” Bjornson said, “but I didn’t think there was anything I could do about it.”
Those physical barriers to his care and the stress they added are now a thing of the past. On Dec. 10, a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held to celebrate the completion of the Neuroscience Health Center, which will open to patients in January.
The building is tuned to the needs of people with neurological conditions or injuries such as brain tumors, movement disorders, brain aneurysms, spine deterioration, Parkinson’s disease and memory disorders. Bjornson, a member of the Patient and Family Advisory Council for the center, was happy to be only figuratively bowled over as he explored the outpatient center for the first time. “It’s astounding,” he said. “The world doesn’t make any exceptions for people whose movements or thinking are affected by neurological disorders. To have this building that’s been made specifically for us is astounding.”
“We had a vision,” said Alison Kerr, vice president for operations at Stanford Health Care and one of the new center’s project leaders. “Five years ago, our neurology, neurosciences and interventional neuroradiology clinicians met with our counterparts in the School of Medicine to establish a partnership to build this center.”
From the ground up
The project had two goals: Build a center that would exemplify what neurological patient care should look like and what scientific and clinical collaboration among specialists in 21 neurological subspecialties could be. They all knew it could only be done from the ground up.
“At Stanford Medicine, we are committed to working across boundaries to provide preventive, personalized and patient-centered care for our patients,” said Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the School of Medicine. “Through the Stanford Neuroscience Health Center, we are leading the biomedical revolution in precision health by providing our neuroscience patients with individualized care that is focused on wellness and integrates the most technologically advanced equipment with groundbreaking discovery.”
The 92,000-square-foot, five-story building’s assets are considerable: a site at the corner of Quarry Road and Welch Road, with an adjacent parking garage, and exam rooms, procedure rooms, faculty offices, a clinical trials office, a National Institutes of Health-funded research center on Alzheimer’s disease, neurorehabilitation services, patient education and exercise classrooms, diagnostic imaging, radiological treatment services, a balance lab, a kinematic lab and an outdoor mobility garden, which features different kinds of surfaces for neuroscience patients to practice walking on.
The center also has two unusual testing services. The first is a PET/MRI scanner, a hybrid machine that produces images that are more accurate and detailed than in either technology alone — and with half the radiation exposure of a PET/CT scan. The center is one of the first health-care providers in North America to make this imaging available to patients who are not part of a research study. The second is the only comprehensive autonomic disorder testing laboratory on the West Coast. Disorders of the autonomic nervous system can be difficult to diagnose and treat without this type of lab and the appropriate specialists to interpret the results.
“The Stanford Neuroscience Health Center will provide the absolute leading edge of care in a highly coordinated fashion,” said Amir Dan Rubin, president and CEO of Stanford Health Care. “This first-of-its-kind center brings together multidisciplinary teams of Stanford clinicians, leveraging breakthrough approaches, all in a highly patient-centered facility.”
For multiple appointments, one check-in
Putting all these services in one place was one of the foremost requests of the Patient and Family Advisory Council: a group of 12 patients, who have been treated for neurological disorders, and their family members that was created to share perspectives with the center’s designers. They did not want to be traipsing from building to building. The center has another time-reducer: Patients with multiple appointments in the center on the same day need only check in once.
The advisory board also wanted other changes that might seem subtle, but make a difference to people whose neurological disorders affect their mobility. “The exam rooms are larger, the doors and hallways wider, the chairs sturdier and the floors organized logically to reduce the need for our patients to move from place to place,” said the center’s co-leader Frank Longo, MD, PhD, the George and Lucy Becker Professor in Medicine and professor and chair of neurology and neurological sciences. “We want our patients to come to our center and immediately recognize that it was designed to respond to their unique challenges in ways they have never seen in a care facility.”
To have this building that’s been made specifically for us is astounding.
The check-in desk is low enough to be the perfect height for someone in a wheelchair. The center has a pharmacy certified to produce the customized medications given to patients by IV — just yards away from the infusion stations where patients sit for hours to receive those medications. The seats in that area were chosen because they can swivel 360 degrees, and the partitions are translucent and movable so people can talk to each other, or not.
Because some patients are sensitive to changes in floor texture, color and patterns, the center uses a muted palette; patterns have been kept to a minimum. The rare changes in floor covering are accomplished without the standard metal transition strips that are trip-and-fall hazards for people using crutches and an unpleasant bump for people using wheelchairs.
The center’s administrators also conducted monthly simulations of what a patient might experience in the building, depending on which neurological disorder affected that person. “We wanted to fix any loopholes before the center opened,” said center co-leader Gary Steinberg, MD, PhD, the Bernard and Ronni Lacroute-William Randolph Hearst Professor in Neurosurgery and Neurosciences and professor and chair of neurosurgery. “We wanted to do more than just institute innovations; we wanted to make sure they would work from the very first day we welcome patients to the new center.”
Longo and Steinberg are looking forward, too, to the synergy of bringing together neurologists, neurosurgeons, interventional neuroradiologists and rehabilitation specialists. “One of the advantages of Stanford has always been the presence of people doing groundbreaking work in many fields. New ideas are born because we run into each other by accident. In this center, it won’t be an accident,” Steinberg said.
“I am sure that entirely new approaches to patient care will evolve because we have all of these disciplines together under one roof. We couldn’t have done that in a conventional health setting,” said Longo. “Many of our doctors are also involved in clinical research, and we wanted them to have a direct connection to patients. These clinicians are motivated every day by their patients to come up with better treatment options. Working in closer proximity means they can share their enthusiasm with each other and push the boundaries of what we can do for patients.”
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