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Project Update · 03.22.2024

California health care giant making big investment in S.F. and AI with ‘innovation center’

In an airy workspace with views of the Bay Bridge, young workers who look like they belong at a tech startup are helping create the future of health care.

Inside Sutter Health’s new “innovation center” at San Francisco’s Pier 1, steps north of the Ferry Building, some engineers are running mobile apps to help patients monitor their vital signs. Others are working on sensors for the home that can spot worrisome patient movements. And others are experimenting with cutting-edge artificial intelligence.

Sacramento-based Sutter, Northern California’s largest health system, signed a seven-year lease for the 11,000-square-foot office space in January and opened it for employees this month.

Sutter’s leaders say the move represents a significant investment in San Francisco — especially in AI, which they consider a crucial part of health care’s future — at a time many companies are shrinking their footprint in the city or leaving altogether.

It is not the first time Sutter, which operates two major hospitals in San Francisco — CPMC Van Ness and CPMC Mission Bernal — has maintained nonclinical office space in the city. Its previous office on Battery Street closed early in the pandemic after most employees began working remotely.

But the innovation center is the first designated physical space for the provider’s engineers, developers and designers to work with AI and tech firms on digital health apps and remote monitoring programs intended to bring health care into people’s homes and everyday lives.

This is a much bigger play,

said Sutter’s chief innovation officer Chris Waugh.

The center will showcase technology developed by Sutter’s engineering team, including a mobile app called Scout that monitors teens’ mental health and a digital Continuous Care Program that encourages Sutter patients with hypertension to take frequent blood pressure readings at home and enter them into the system to better track their health.

The space will also feature a prototype “hospital room of the future,” equipped with remote monitoring devices that automatically update patients’ medical records, and a Genius Bar-like setup where Sutter patients can get help signing up for and navigating digital health apps.

The center is not meant for physical exams, but Sutter health coaches will work there to provide virtual health care, such as conducting telehealth appointments through screens.

Sutter is developing a number of other digital tools, including sensors for inside the home — for the bed, refrigerator and stove — that can sense patterns in people’s daily movements and pick up on red flags. Such tools could be used, for instance, to monitor falls in the home, one of the leading causes of death and injury among people 65 and older, said Dr. Richard Milani, Sutter’s chief clinical innovation officer.

The health provider is also expanding partnerships with tech companies that are developing digital health tools, including AI.

The innovation center “is intended to be a hub for innovation, to be connected with Sutter’s clinical leaders,” said Pelu Tran, CEO and co-founder of Ferrum, a Sunnyvale company that provides Sutter a secure platform through which it can access various AI tools, including an AI-assisted cancer detection program that helps radiologists find lung cancer early.

Sutter will be able to engage the AI ecosystem here in the Bay Area much more proactively and at scale,

Tran said.

Waugh said Sutter looked at about 35 other office spaces in the city, including in the South of Market and Mission Bay neighborhoods, and decided on Pier 1 because it’s accessible by public transportation and car for Sutter employees commuting from the East Bay, South Bay and elsewhere.

We’re optimistic and betting on the city,

he said.

We’re not going anywhere. This is a long bet. We want to be part of the comeback story. Let’s not wait to see if the city is going to come back. Let’s be part of it.


Date Published: 03.22.2024
Source: San Francisco Chronicle
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