At Atrius Health Innovation Center, you’re just as likely to run into a musician, history major, or software developer as you are a practicing physician.
That’s because the state’s largest independent doctors group, which serves over 675,000 patients across Massachusetts and has been ranked as one of the top places to work in the state, hires employees with a diverse range of skill sets, hoping this will help them come up with unique solutions to really tough problems.
The workers at the Innovation Center — called innovation engineers — come from all different backgrounds. Though they all work together to develop ways to improve patient care and delivery, many have little medical experience.
Sarah Steinberg, for example, was a manufacturing engineer for medical devices and robotic equipment, while George Higgins joined the innovation team shortly after graduating from Boston University with a history degree.
The types of projects they work on vary, but all of them aim to solve problems that frustrate patients and clinicians alike.
One project the team worked on focuses on making visits to the dermatologist less of a chore for patients.
The solution, a teledermatology program, allows primary care providers to take a picture of a rash or lesion and send it to one of Atrius Health’s dermatologists, who review the photo and contact the patient with a diagnosis and treatment instructions.
The beauty of this process is that it takes place within 72 hours to ensure that patients receive prompt feedback on their concerns – far less time than the typical 30-60 days patients must wait for an in-office dermatology consultation.
Dr. Karen DaSilva, vice president of innovation at Atrius, said healthcare programs are typically designed by people working in healthcare, which can lead to a similarity of solutions that don’t always explore all the options.
“It’s critically important to bring in the voice of patients,” DaSilva said. The innovation engineers do this by visiting patients in their homes and asking them what they want and need before starting any projects. “It’s strange that healthcare doesn’t do that. They often think of patients as medical models rather than people,” she added.
That’s what makes the innovation team so different. Though the engineers might not have studied medicine at college, they all chose to work in healthcare to help patients.
Steinberg, who has been working at Atrius Health for almost a year, said she joined the nonprofit because she felt a strong desire to be impactful and help people, rather than just “make parts.”
“Making parts was not that fulfilling,” Steinberg said, even though she liked her clients and got to see medical devices perform their function in operating rooms. “I wanted to identify the unmet or ill-met needs of patients. Now, I work directly with doctors and other clinical people and feel directly impactful at improving care delivery.”