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Dr. Allison Suttle

Dr. Allison Suttle, Sanford Health, Sioux Falls, S.D.: New medical specialties are coming soon to a clinic near you

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – Emerging technologies are changing every industry, and health care is no exception.

But with the advent of more data, more virtual visits and more specialties, some core elements remain: The value of human experience, the art inherent in practicing medicine and the desire to treat the whole patient.

At Sanford Health, we embrace change and how it can help drive better outcomes for our patients, the communities we serve and the regions where we live. I’m excited to share a few of the emerging medical trends and technologies coming to Prairie Business readers’ communities.

Clinical informatics

Imagine all the data available in an electronic medical record: lab results. Patient histories. Visit summaries. Everything from the concrete – a set of vital signs – to the fluid – how a patient seems on a given day, what’s happening in his or her life or work and how those developments are affected by stress.

It’s a mind-boggling amount of information. But new programs and algorithms are helping providers comb through the data and predict patients who may be at risk of illness.

The algorithms can link seemingly disconnected data points, calling a physician’s attention to a patient who might become sick. This allows physicians to prevent illness and intervene.

Those interventions vary. For example, patients may be asked if they have a refrigerator for their insulin, or how their nutrition plan is going or if they need a reliable ride to an appointment.

The concept of a clinical informaticist calls for a fellowship-trained expert, and that’s something Sanford Health is considering on the horizon.

Lifestyle medicine

We must understand our patients at every stage of their lives if we want to truly take better care of them. That means building a team around physicians to include specialists and social workers and outreach experts who can help tailor advice and treatment to the variety of patients we see.

We will add senior care to our primary care clinics, screening patients for dementia and other issues.

We will better understand, for example, what exercise means for an 80-year-old patient with congestive heart failure, or a 25-year-old with obesity.

Health care is personal. It is a physician and patient having a conversation, and the physician has a responsibility to understand that patient in the context of who they are and what their goals are – and then offer advice and help.

When people come in, they may be ashamed to say their water has been turned off and they don’t have electricity. But when you go into the home and see those realities, you realize that if you don’t know the whole picture, you don’t know the whole patient.

We will train our providers to be better at this, to look at what this means from a population health perspective – access to transportation, medications, housing and value-based care.

Virtual medicine

Virtual medicine has been around for decades. Picture a physician answering your questions over the phone.

But with emerging technology, it’s becoming even more advanced and requiring new skill sets. A medical virtualist – trained to help patients off-site – can help improve access and save time for some patients.

Video calls, cellphones, the ability to send a recording of your heart through the electronic medical record – all these things will make it possible to expand virtual medicine.

The trick will be teaching physicians how to best interpret the data, to know when a patient needs to come in to be seen and to have the right technology to be successful.

Patients will be able to solve things that don’t require an in-person visit. That also means physicians likely will be seeing a sicker patient population in the office, which can be draining. But they may be able to spend more time with each patient and be better able to help them.

What do these developments mean?

For employers in our region, these specialties can help us move the needle on population health, creating a healthier workforce and healthier communities. Maybe an employee can do a virtual visit rather than leave the office for an appointment. Perhaps better options in lifestyle medicine mean employees can better manage their chronic illnesses.

For educators and universities, these specialties create career paths for graduates.

And for Sanford Health, these changes mean we can continue to improve the quality of life for the patients we serve in the communities where they live.

We are able to make a difference.

You don’t know a patient until you know his or her story. Our job is to find out that story, and help our patients turn the page.

Dr. Allison Suttle

Chief medical officer,

Sanford Health

Sioux Falls, S.D.