Patrick Dunn, American Heart Association (Part One)

01.03.19

Our first #PackChat is with Patrick Dunn of American Heart Association’s Center for Health Technology and Innovation. We were so inspired by his story, we had to break it into two parts!

This first half is all about the personal motivations behind Patrick’s professional journey – from studying sports medicine in college to the patient-centered innovations he’s pioneering with American Heart Association today.

 

The #PackChat series is all about getting to know the human behind the innovation. If you have other inspiring humans we should get to know, make the connection by emailing maggie@packhealth.com.

Time: 7 min

So you started your career in healthcare fresh out of college, as an exercise physiologist at St Catherine’s. Can you tell me a bit about what inspired you to go down this path and how that experience drove you towards what you’re doing today?

You know, it all started because I was really interested in sports medicine. I was actually a physical education major in college, in part because I loved the Olympics. My dream was to be training Olympic athletes, so I got my masters in exercise physiology.

 

I’d never even heard of cardiac rehab, but I was always really interested in cardiovascular fitness, so I took a cardiac rehab internship and very quickly fell in love with it. Now I consider my patients my athletes, and I find it so much more fulfilling because it’s literally life and death as opposed to winning a medal or a game. There’s just so much more at stake.

 

That’s awesome! So do you see a lot of overlap between how you would coach an athlete and how you train cardiac rehab patients?

Definitely. They have different goals but ultimately it’s the same principles.

I’ve always been an educator. It’s funny, education is kind of the family business. My mother and my wife are both teachers, and my daughter is an education major. So even in exercise physiology, I’ve translated that to where it’s really about coaching, helping, educating, and being a support person for someone as their trying to achieve their goals.

In the context of cardiac rehab, it’s heart health goals, but it could be anything!

 

Makes sense. So I know in 2009 you founded an organization called “Your Heart Score” – can you tell me a bit about how that got started?

Your Heart Score is really a combination of consulting, writing, and analytics. I started out just doing medical writing – literally ghostwriting articles – and that led me into more comprehensive project based things. Honing in on these key questions like how do we reduce or prevent readmissions in patients with heart failure? How do we get better adoption of healthy behaviors in people with diabetes or hypertension?

I almost accidentally ended up with the American Heart Association being a client, which lead me to my current work with the AHA Center for Health Innovation and Technology. It was like, “You have no idea how up my alley all of this is!” …and one thing just led to another.

I also did a lot of work with the American Diabetes Association, several physician groups, and along the way it’s really become the foundation of my health literacy research – really trying to develop better tools and methods for people to better understand their condition and how they live with their condition.

 

That’s awesome. I’d love to know, as an innovator in healthcare, what would you say are your greatest tools or strategies for cutting through the complexity to affect change and really get things done?

The number one thing for me is that the patient has to be at the center of the equation. Healthcare gets more complicated when you start thinking about other stakeholders, and I believe that if everyone was really focused on the patient it would get less complicated.

Within that, it’s really about engaging that person to be a more active participant. That’s a huge challenge, but you know, we have a lot of challenges – we put a lot of effort into diagnosing things like Atrial Fibrillation, why can’t we put as much effort into how we engage people to make better decisions? Obviously organizations like Pack Health are important in that because it’s a lot of what you do.

The other thing, with my work with the Center for Health Innovation and Technology, is that I think tech and innovation are the future – but it’s not just about the shiny, trendy, new objects. It’s so important to remember that innovation can actually be low tech, but doing things that actually move the needle. Figuring out things that work, whether they be electronic technologies or just a better way to do things can move our system, is essential. We have a long way to go, because we have a lot of technology that hasn’t yielded the results. So there’s still a lot of work to be done, but I’m pretty optimistic that we’re starting to figure this stuff out.

_ 

The lens of the educator and study of health literacy are key themes throughout Patrick’s career. Stay tuned for the second half of this conversation, in which we geek out about Patrick’s health literacy research!