A Global Mindset for Local Innovations

This guest blog post is by Partho Sengupta, the incoming Director of Cardiovascular Imaging and Chair of Cardiovascular Innovation at the Heart and Vascular Institute at West Virginia University, Morgantown. He spoke on the TEDMED stage in 2016 and you can watch his talk here.

Dr. Sengupta scanning and educating volunteers in American Society of Echocardiography Humanitarian Events in Sirsa and Delhi, India in 2011. Image courtesy of the American Society of Echocardiography (ASE) foundation for cardiovascular ultrasound (www.asefoundation.org).

By 2030 cardiovascular disease is projected to account for 25 million deaths worldwide. Over the last few decades, the cardiovascular community globally has continued to respond to this pandemic with groundbreaking innovations. However, the diffusion of innovation remains unequal since healthcare sectors around the world are characterized by social inequality, depending on where the patient lives and the system in which care is received. When I came to the US in 2004, I wondered if my research or any of my breakthroughs would ever impact the lives of patients in India or other countries.

In 2011, I was tasked by the American Society of Echocardiography (ASE) to develop international programs that address educational needs of the international membership. And here was an opportunity to engage people from both US and abroad in a meaningful way. Inspired by the work of Saint Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Ji Insaan and the help of my colleagues who perform humanitarian work in Sirsa, a rural village town in North India, I decided to combine humanitarianism with new technology as a model of innovation. One of my first projects in India brought together industry support, membership engagement, education and research simultaneously over 2 days. We performed focused echocardiographic studies with Web-based assessments in which over 1000 examinations were performed in remote India over two days, which were uploaded to the cloud and read by over 75 institutions worldwide. After the success of the first event, we performed several such cardiovascular camps and simultaneously educated local health personnel – a practice that now forms the heart of the ASE Foundation Programs. It has been fulfilling to see the enthusiastic adaption of such humanitarian program by societies across UK, Europe, Asia and South America.

ASE volunteers who participated in the humanitarian-innovation event in Delhi, India. Image courtesy of the ASE Foundation for Cardiovascular Ultrasound (www.asefoundation.org).

We in the United States are diverse and form a microcosm of different societies and communities, each with their own specific needs in this large health care system. I have often pondered if the real value of addressing the technological and educational needs of the global healthcare community could be in finding solutions to some of our own needs within the US- an investment with dual purpose! There are regional pockets in the US with extremely high rates of death and morbidities related to income, education level, sex, race, and ethnicity and employment status. One of the states with the highest prevalence of cardiovascular disease (13.7%) is West Virginia. The rate of heart attacks is the highest in the nation (7.8%). The prevalence of obesity in adults is 35.1%, with over 40% having hypertension and only two out of 10 adults ever screened for cardiovascular risks. The expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act resulted in nearly half a million new enrollees in Medicaid by 2015. However, the state continues to grapple with efforts to reduce shortage of healthcare professionals.

The success of the humanitarian innovation program carried out in India by Dr. Sengupta also kindled interest in other world societies. Seen in the picture are volunteers of a similar project that was carried out by British Heart Foundation in Africa. Image courtesy of the Mark Monaghan, British Society of Echocardiography (www.echoinafrica.org).

In mid 2016, at the same time I was asked to participate in TEDMED, I received an invitation from a newly formed Heart and Vascular Institute at the West Virginia University, Morgantown to steer the vision for a statewide Noninvasive Cardiovascular Imaging program with creation of a Cardiovascular Innovation Center that would focus on developing new strategies. Some might question why I would ever leave my position in New York City and move to West Virginia. But as I put my TEDMED talk together, I realized perhaps West Virginia offered a fertile ground for innovation to implement the vision of automated technologies, robotics and implement novel processes to screen latent cardiovascular disease that I was talking about.

The successful humanitarian-innovation projects in India spurred interests widely. Here is seen a similar project organized along with Care Harbor healthcare clinic for the uninsured, underinsured and underserved in LA County in 2014 at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. This was the ASE Foundation’s first U.S.-based humanitarian mission besides the other programs carried out in Vietnam, Argentina, Philippines, Kenya, central China, and Cuba. Image courtesy of the ASE Foundation for Cardiovascular Ultrasound (www.asefoundation.org).

When I think about the opportunities over the years that have come my way, I feel fortunate and it becomes even more relevant that I find ways not just to practice medicine but push the field forward meaningfully. What if high resource urban health care center in the US may have locked up the funding and physicians, creating even greater disparities in the US? Perhaps I feel that there is opportunity to disrupt this meaningfully.

I believe that organizations like TEDMED can encourage free minds to make a real change, and I certainly believe, as my talk travels far and wide, it could serve as a vehicle for engaging collaborations with industry partners, non-profit organizations, national societies, local state bodies and university professionals to bring this vision to fruition in West Virginia and the world.