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Best Care

Minnesota’s best hospitals and clinics constantly strive to bring more compassion to their care. Not only do these groups employ cutting-edge tools and techniques, but they regularly improve their health-care processes.

Best Care
Photo by Jeff Johnson

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Prostate Cancer

Problem: Prostate cancer is the most common non-skin cancer in men, and treating it via surgery can be complicated, often leading to such complications as incontinence and a difficult recovery.

New Approach: At HealthEast Cancer Care at St. John’s Hospital, doctors combine human insight with a robot’s mechanical precision. The hospital’s da Vinci Surgical System uses sophisticated technology that’s guided by surgeons to minimize incisions, target tumors more accurately, and reduce post-operation recovery times. Numerous studies have found that the surgery leads to less blood loss, fewer complications, and shorter hospital stays.

Payoff: More than 2,000 patients have successfully undergone prostate-cancer surgery with da Vinci at St. John’s—more than any other hospital in Minnesota.


Problem: Young patients (and their parents) don’t always feel they get enough input in their care, which can lead to communication gaps with medical staff.

New Approach: My Story, a pilot program tested at the University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital, is a series of customized, computerized forms that allows children to share information about their lives with caregivers in their own words. Details include everything from favorite toys and activities to what they want to be when they grow up.

Payoff: Since the project officially launched in 2012, surveys have found that kids are more likely to report that their doctors found ways to make the hospital feel like home and that they liked how the doctors took care of them. Parents add that doctors are significantly more likely to discuss medical information with their children in a way that kids understand.


Problem: Surgeons use literally hundreds of sponges during a surgery to soak up fluids as they work on complex cases. Despite manual tracking systems, a sponge or other implement is left in a patient once every 6,000 surgeries—with significant medical consequences.

New Approach: Mayo uses a sponge counter with scannable barcode technology (not unlike that used at grocery stores) to keep an accurate inventory. All sponges must be accounted for before a patient gets sewn back up.

Payoff: Since Mayo became an early adopter of the system in 2009, no sponges have been left inside any of its patients.

An App a Day Keeps the Doctor Away?

Doctors and hospitals are increasingly harnessing the power of apps for everything from scheduling appointments to dispensing medical advice. Few, however, are taking up the challenge with as much zeal as the Mayo Clinic, which has tapped into its vast systems and expertise to develop more than a dozen uniquely helpful apps to schedule appointments and learn more about medical conditions.

Patient (free): Schedule an appointment without ever being put on hold. Users can book a checkup and get secure access to personal health information online. The app also includes maps and directions, appointment guides, medication instructions—even entertainment near clinics.

Mayo Clinic on Pregnancy (free): Any soon-to-be mom knows that pregnancy inspires everyone—everyone—to offer unsolicited advice. But for those who prefer guidance founded on actual medical evidence, this app offers sound counsel on topics from nutrition to delivery every week of your pregnancy plus the first three months after childbirth.

AnxietyCoach by Mayo Clinic ($4.99): Developed by clinical psychologists, this app helps users zero in on their specific anxiety profiles, learn hundreds of techniques to tamp down fears, and build a personal plan to move forward.

Sleep Apnea

Problem: Nearly one in 15 Americans suffers from sleep apnea, a condition in which the airway collapses during sleep, causing breathlessness for 10 seconds or more. The ramification is more than just daytime sleepiness, says North Memorial’s Jason Cornelius, MD. “Sleep apnea promotes serious health problems, like high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, diabetes, heart attack, and stroke,” he adds. The solution doesn’t always feel like an improvement, either: a device that can help people breathe (called CPAP) can be intolerable for patients who find the mask component claustrophobic.

New Approach: North Memorial Sleep Health Center is one of just two hospitals statewide (the other is St. Cloud Hospital) that tested an implantable device (pictured at left), much like the design of a pacemaker, to treat sleep apnea. Patients turn on the device before bed with a remote control; during sleep, it stimulates a nerve for the tongue that keeps the airway open.

Payoff: Though the device is still awaiting FDA approval, preliminary results have been promising. According to Cornelius, who monitored patients during the study, many participants are enjoying newfound energy and alertness, which has benefited not only their health but also their personal and professional lives.

Virtual Coaching

Problem: In-person fitness coaching and nutrition counseling is great—except when it requires hiring a babysitter or enduring an hourlong drive through traffic.

New Approach: Last year, Ways to Wellness at Woodwinds Health Campus became, to their knowledge, the first program in Minnesota to offer Skype fitness and nutrition coaching sessions. “People have a lot of barriers when it comes to taking care of themselves,” says Brenda Navin, director of health and wellness at the HealthEast Care System, of which Woodwinds is a member. “So we’ve tried to eliminate some of those barriers and make [our services] accessible to everyone.”

Payoff: Clients can do full-body workouts from home or the office, even if they don’t have a single piece of exercise equipment. Coaches can help assess form and adapt the routine.

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