The 3 Coolest Things That Happened At HealthTech ’15

The region’s finest technological and scientific minds (read: people likely far smarter than you and I) gathered yesterday at the Westchester County Association’s second annual HealthTech conference in Tarrytown to discuss breakthroughs, challenges, and opportunities in the biotech, life sciences, and med tech fields. The industry, valued around $15 billion here, has become one of Westchester’s fastest-growing and most prestigious sectors.

But the most interesting things that happened at the event were the ones highlighting the human impact of all these “mad science” breakthroughs.

In her keynote speech, Laura L. Forese, MD, MPH, president of the NewYork-Presbyterian Healthcare System, echoed that fact when she spoke about how the patient experience is always at the center of their strategies. Though she discussed the impact and importance of healthcare trends like hospital consolidations, the shifts in approaches to care (she dropped buzzwords like “population health,” “value-based care,” etc.), cost-reducing strategies, and technological innovations, it has to all come back to patients, she said. “We always put the patient in the center,” Forese noted, explaining that it’s her job to “make sure technology doesn’t get in the way of patient care.”

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While we of course champion the scientists, technology gurus, and entrepreneurs who are adding so much dynamic interest and talent to our business community, and whose successful firms are giving a much-needed boost to our local economy, the chance to see the actual human impact of their forward-thinking research and business prowess left the longest-lasting impression.

Here are the three things that blew us away at HealthTech ’15:

Robotic Physical Therapy: During a presentation by Dylan Edwards, MD, director of the Burke Center for Excellence in Robotics and Brain Stimulation, the audience watched a video about “Doug,” a 39-year-old MIT graduate and father of two who has been rehabbing at Burke since a stroke in 2013 left him paralyzed. Using a revolutionary robotic device made by a company named Ekso, he has been learning to walk again. After the video ended, Doug made a surprise appearance, entering the room with the help of his exoskeleton suit and the Burke therapists. His wife, Amy, spoke movingly of their journey and how much the technology has helped them. They were rewarded with a standing ovation and an audience visible moved by the presentation.

3D Printing for Surgery: Holding up the 3D-printed scale-sized replica of a human baby’s heart, Anjali Chelliah, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at Columbia University Medical Center, presented a case study of a surgery she performed on “Baby S,” who had a life-threatening congenital heart. Using the 3D printed model of the baby’s heart, Chelliah and her team were able to practice beforehand the complicated surgery necessary to save the baby’s life. The approach of preparing through 3D printing, Chelliah explained, allows the doctors to learn from mistakes made on the model and go into the surgery with an accurate plan. It also allowed them to fix the heart defect in just one surgery, saving time and money for the hospital and preventing the need for the baby to endure multiple surgeries. David Putrino, PhD, director of telemedicine and virtual rehabilitation at Burke Medical Research Institute, also showed how 3D printing can work wonders in a moving video about a project to 3D print prosthetic arms to help war victims in Sudan who have lost limbs.

Next-Gen Wearables: During her keynote speech, Forese highlighted new technology in use at NewYork-Presbyterian that helps in treatment of children with autism. The children wear a bracelet (similar to a FitBit) that tracks data which physicians, wearing specialized goggles, can use to glean new insights into the way brains of people on the autism spectrum work. The technology is helpful, Forese said, because children with autism often have difficulty making eye contact and may be nonverbal. 

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