Millionaire’s Mission: Joe Kiani Wants Zero Patient Deaths Due to Medical Error
Photo by Kendrick Brinson
STAT news reporter USHA LEE MCFARLING recently reported on the work of patient safety advocate Joe Kiani, a millionaire on a mission to solve patient deaths attributed to medical error. I have previously participated in Joe’s annual Patient Safety Summit as a representative of SimGHOSTS, and found the man, the mission, and the organization a powerful voice for improving healthcare. Check out this excerpt of the article by Usha on STAT news:
Joe Kiani likes to point out that the most worn spot on most medical monitoring devices is the mute button. He’s out to change that — and, he hopes, to stop the epidemic of preventable hospital death that kills tens of thousands of Americans each year. It’s not a glamorous cause. And Kiani is not a household name. But he is a multimillionaire with a proven track record of using engineering smarts to fix dogged problems; he made his fortune improving the humble pulse oximeter, which measures oxygen saturation in the blood. Now, he’s pushing a nerdy, but elegant, idea for saving lives: prodding manufacturers of medical devices and electronic records to open their platforms so all the systems can talk to each other.
His tech fix — if widely implemented — could bring order to the cacophony of beeps, buzzes, and blaring alarms that can so overwhelm nurses and doctors that they push “mute” and miss true emergencies. It could make it easier for staff to monitor patients with complex needs. And it could flag, in advance, potentially fatal errors like incorrect dosing and drug allergies. Manufacturers, naturally, aren’t so eager to share their computer code. But Kiani is not one to give up. He stages a glitzy patient safety summit each year, attracting big-name speakers like Bill Clinton and Joe Biden to pound home the need for hospitals to stop killing their patients.
Kiani runs his own medical device company, Masimo, from a building so airy and modern it stood in for Stark Enterprises in the first “Iron Man” movie. “It’s probably better he didn’t become a doctor,” mused Dr. Steven Barker, a professor emeritus of anesthesiology and aeronautical engineer at the University of Arizona who now works as chief science officer for Masimo. “He wouldn’t have saved nearly as many lives.” Soon after graduating, Kiani got a chance to work on pulse oximeters. The geek in him was captivated. “I couldn’t believe you could shine light in your finger and measure oxygen in your blood,” he said. “I just loved the idea.”
When Kiani began to put faces to the statistics, he was shaken. One of those faces belonged to 11-year-old Leah Coufal, who died in December of 2002 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. She’d had routine surgery to correct a mild chest deformity and apparently received a massive dose of fentanyl to control pain — enough to stop her breathing. Her mother, Lenore Alexander, couldn’t talk about Leah’s death for a decade. When she started speaking out, Kiani listened. He was shocked to realize his own daughter — who is fine now — had surgery in the same hospital, with the same surgeon, in the same week as Leah. “That could have been me,” Kiani told the people gathered at his first patient summit in 2013. “It could have been you.”
He was also shocked to find Leah had not been monitored after surgery, not even with a simple pulse oximeter. Another name Kiani couldn’t keep out of his mind at the time was Rory Staunton, a 12-year old from New York who scraped his arm in gym class, then died from a sepsis infection that simple screening tools could have detected.
How one hospital is beating sepsis and saving lives “He wondered: “Why are people going into hospitals and not coming out?’” said Frederic J. Harris, an electrical engineering professor at San Diego State University who taught Kiani and remains close to him.
He’s working to create the architecture that hospitals could use to network their tens of thousands of devices into what he calls a “truly neutral, two-way plug and play” system. Once those standards are in place, he said, “I’m going to call vendors on their data pledges — very publicly.”