The art of VMC’s teaching program…

Medical school is NOT what it used to be. Seriously – art museums? Yes, art

Medical students digging deep into art at Stanford's Cantor Art Museum.

Medical students digging deep into art at Stanford’s Cantor Art Museum.

museums! But first, a little background…

Valley Medical Center has been the teaching hospital for Stanford’s School of Medicine for more than 75 years. That’s a lot of doctors whose careers were launched here. How many? One in four who practice medicine in Silicon Valley trained at VMC.

That training environment is not just great for doctors; it’s great for patients. The collaborative spirit and team approach to diagnoses and medicine has demonstrated better patient outcomes. And of course, the best doctors fall in love with VMC’s mission and stick around for the next 40 years or so. Pretty cool.

So speaking of cool, the way VMC teaches our young doctors-in-training is pretty special too. Yeuen Kim, MD, invited me to spend part of my Friday morning with our young doctors and her fellow faculty at Stanford’s Cantor Art Museum. If you’ve never been, you really should go. Like VMC, it’s world-class.

We were there as part of Dr. Kim’s four-week seminar on medicine and the humanities. Art, music, literature and poetry. “We’re measuring empathy, attitudes and visual diagnostic skills to see if humanities help improve those aspects of professionalism and physical diagnosis,” Dr. Kim explained to me.  This concept is funded by a National Institutes of Health Clinical Translational Sciences Award, administered by the Stanford Office of Community Health – a true scientific study of outcomes (see? Art and Science DO mix!)

While gathered around a particular painting with Cantor Museum Curator Patience Young, I got the feeling that Dr. Kim was right on target. “What are you seeing? What is the artist telling us about this girl? How would you describe her facial expression?” For art students, these questions are basic ones, but Curator Young drew great responses from our medical students – few of whom had any knowledge of art history and were hesitant (at first) to respond…but opened up more and more as the morning went on.

By the time we convened around Rodin’s “The Thinker” and “The Kiss”, the conversation was lively and detailed. Hand position, toes and fingers, the back story of the characters. A true thoughtful exploration of these masterworks.

Dr. Kim and her team believe humanities training can help recapture “the dying art of the physical examination, which our students often struggle with.” She explained to me that technological advances have changed the way patients are examined and diagnosed, and training has changed a lot since she finished medical school in the late ’90’s. “We need to teach our future physician leaders to truly connect with the whole person, to see them for who they are. That’s the best way to help them.”

What struck me was the length of time we all spent on each artistic work. This is the very antithesis of how most people these days think of a doctor’s visit and exam: Quick! Get in, get out, on to the next patient! How many can we see in an hour? More productivity!

My personal experience getting care at VMC for the last decade is not this. Sure, our doctors don’t waste time, but there is a sense of care and connection I get that I understand doesn’t mirror some of my friends’ experiences elsewhere. Training our new doctors to slow down, see the whole patient, learn about WHO they are and not just WHAT ails them can make a big difference.

And as of last week, I see where it comes from.

It was a historic (some might say Epic) weekend at VMC


The future arrived at VMC just after dawn on Saturday morning.  In an instant, massive change had come to the largest and busiest health system in the Valley.

HealthLink, the new electronic health record and core information technology system for the Santa Clara Valley Health & Hospital System was officially launched, culminating an unprecedented two-year effort to move VMC into the forefront of healthcare IT.  It took a cast of hundreds from every division, department and unit of the hospital to make HealthLink a reality.

It is hard to overstate how significant of an impact this change will have on the organization.

As longtime VMC Rheumatologist (and member of the VMC Foundation Board of Directors) Dr. Tom Bush says, “HealthLink is going be the biggest change that happens at Valley Medical Cener in the last 30 to 40 years, and it’s going to change our lives and workplace dramatically.”

Kaiser members will be familiar with many of the features of HealthLink.  The Oakland-based health giant spent billions to launch their core IT system, KP Health Connect nearly a decade ago.  Now, like virtually all other major health systems in the Bay Area, VMC is following suit.

HealthLink will soon allow patients to communicate with their doctor electronically, while viewing lab results, scheduling appointments and refilling prescriptions online. There are also many online chemists stores in Ireland which enable you to consult the best chemist to stay healthy and get quality treatments. Patient health information is securely stored and shared electronically, allowing specialty and primary care departments to communicate more easily and efficiently.

It will also prove to be an enormous time and cost saver, as doctors, nurses and clerical workers will avoid many of the  difficulties experienced tracking down patient information using old-fashioned paper charts.  Other systems that have implemented this technology found that patients enjoyed reduced wait times at pharmacies, labs and call centers, as more people were able to conduct their business online.

It goes without saying that HealthLink was a massive undertaking.  Indeed, it represents the most significant investment that the County has made in something that’s not a building.  Huge credit is due to the currently leadership of the Santa Clara Valley Health & Hospital System, including Director Rene Santiago, who championed this effort from his first day on the job over a year ago, and Paul Lorenz, VMC CEO.  Lee Hermann, Chief Healthcare Technology Information Officer for the Health & Hospital System, oversaw most aspects of implementation.    County Executive Jeff Smith had the vision to seek this solution knowing how antiquated VMCs IT infrastructure had become, and the Board of Supervisors, who provided the resources to make HealthLink possible.

And of course, the Health Link Champions, the Build-Teams, the Trainers, Subject Matter Experts, and hundreds of other VMC staff who worked for two years and redesigned every aspect of their daily workflow to prepare for the HealthLink go-live.

Work is far from done, as thousands of VMC staff will now use HealthLink in a clinical setting for the first time.  A whole smorgasbord of challenges must be identified and bested.  Indeed, as of this writing, a staff of hundreds are pulling 12-hour shifts in a round-the-clock command center that will stay in place for at least the next 10 days.

But the hard part is (hopefully) behind us.  Bravo.