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Dr. Danny Sands becomes Cisco’s medical IT director

Dr. Danny Sands (pictured), a high-profile figure in the U.S. health informatics sector, has taken on the role of International Director of Medical Informatics for Cisco Systems. The hiring of Dr. Sands reflects the growing importance of medical I.T. to communications equipment giant Cisco, which last year did $1 billion worth of business in the healthcare sector, a 40% increase over the previous year.

Dr. Sands was previously VP for Clinical Strategies for Zixcorp, a Dallas-based provider of secure e-mail systems and e-prescribing solutions. He also teaches at Harvard University and maintains a part-time primary care practice at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, in Boston, part of the CareGroup constellation of hospitals and clinics. He played a key role in the development of CareGroup’s leading-edge I.T. system, which includes a patient portal that allows patients to maintain their own electronic health records, electronically book appointments and communicate with their doctors.

In his new position at Cisco, Dr. Sands will play a consulting and advisory role, informing and educating decision-makers at hospitals and health regions about the ways in which I.T. can improve the delivery of healthcare, now and in the future.

At a recent meeting in Toronto, Dr. Sands sketched a picture of how most healthcare systems in Canada and the United States could employ I.T. to great advantage. He did this by recalling a recent personal experience.

One of his own patients, a man in his late 50s, contacted him by secure e-mail, as he was suffering pains in his shoulder and requested a referral to a specialist. The patient lived quite far from the medical office in Boston, and the computerized communication saved him an hour-and-a-half drive, not to mention the waiting room time.

Dr. Sands could easily book an appointment with a specialist electronically, and to prepare the physician for the encounter, he also ordered lab tests and X-rays for the patient – all on-line.

The patient, moreover, asked for a prescription – which Dr. Sands could send directly to a pharmacy for pick-up, with the system automatically checking for possible adverse reactions with the patient’s other medications and allergies.

Later, Dr. Sands received the X-rays and the radiologist’s report online. While reading the X-ray, the radiologist had also noticed multiple lesions in the patient’s lung. Dr. Sands quickly ordered CT scans for the patient, which confirmed the presence of tumours.

The patient entered a cancer treatment program, and Dr. Sands also enrolled him into an on-line support group, with lung cancer patients worldwide sharing their experiences and helping one another. As well, Dr. Sands encouraged the patient to e-mail him daily or whenever he wished. “It’s therapeutic,” said Dr. Sands. “I’m not always able to reply, but I told him that I’m interested in hearing about how he is doing.”

Dr. Sands noted that much of the care process for this patient was conducted on-line – enabling him to keep in contact with the patient and arrange the appropriate care quickly and conveniently. This scenario contrasts with the delays in health systems that don’t make effective use of information technologies.

He observed that clinical applications require robust I.T. systems. “They all sit on infrastructure that needs to be secure and reliable. It’s mission-critical infrastructure.”

Supplying such equipment, of course, is Cisco’s business.

Steve Lawrence, Healthcare Business Development Manager for Cisco Canada, said the company last year released a ‘medical grade networking system’ for healthcare customers. “It’s a relatively new architecture,” said Lawrence. “It’s high bandwidth and high availability. The goal is 100% uptime.”

He noted that the London Health Sciences Centre, in London, Ont., is the first site in Canada to acquire the new medical grade network. The system supports multiple applications, including wireless and video.

On a related front, Cisco is developing applications for healthcare, including workflow solutions for radiology. This new application, designed to make the work of radiologists easier through enhanced communications, is being piloted in Canada.

Cisco is also engaged in implementing leading-edge solutions for wireless communications in hospitals, including nurse-call systems and radio frequency identification (RFID) for equipment and patient location.