top of page
  • Writer's pictureJohn Catanzano, MD

A 'Medical Hotspot:' Jacksonville Physicians Tout Innovative Techniques In Health Care

Florida Times-Union


It seems that rarely a month goes by without a medical center in Jacksonville announcing another big expansion, evidence of a rapidly growing medical industry in a rapidly growing city.

Some of what’s going on inside those buildings was featured recently at a gathering of about 300 health professionals where Tom VanOsdol, president and CEO of Ascension Florida and Gulf Coast, touted the city as “a medical hotspot” that attracts patients nation and worldwide.

A dozen speakers, two each from six hospital systems, spoke at the JAXUSA Partnership Medical Innovation Summit at the Prime Osborn Convention Center.

Topics were as diverse as robotic surgery and biomedical devices technology, the future of transplant surgery and the promise of advanced care at home.

Samer Garas, an interventional cardiologist at Ascension St. Vincent’s taking a quick break from work and still in his hospital scrubs, spoke of advances in heart surgery. He highlighted robotic surgery and minimally invasive valve replacement, in which a catheter is inserted through an artery in the thigh and then snaked to the heart.

A valve-replacement surgery can be completed in 20 minutes in that manner, and an average stay for that procedure is under a day and a half, he said.

For many patients, these advances can replace traditional open-heart surgery where a patient’s ribs are cracked open. That practice, Garas said, will be considered “uncivilized in 20 years.”

Mayo Clinic Jacksonville physician Mike Maniaci touted the efficiencies of advanced medical care at home, which aims to reduce hospital stays and costs while freeing up needed hospital beds. And there’s another benefit, he said: In many cases patients are more comfortable at home and can have better health results.

Mayo patients in advanced medical care at home are equipped with biometric monitoring and given quick access to a centralized command center in Jacksonville staffed by health professionals.

The practice can save considerable money too, Maniaci said, noting that two out of three bankruptcies in America are because of medical bills.

“Really, if you build the system right, everybody wins,” he said.

Mayo’s Burcin Taner spoke of advances in transplant surgery, saying no patient should die from having to wait for an organ transplant. As it is, there are 100,000 people in the United States waiting for a transplant, and 20 die each day.

Goals include preventing organ failure in the first place, restoring “less than optimal” donated organs and engineering new organs, he said.

HCA Florida Memorial Hospital physician Alex Crean discussed the growing possibilities of treating colorectal cancer in patients in their 80s and 90s at a time when lifespans are expanding. Robotic surgery means less-intensive surgery that allows older patients to respond better.

Crean also noted how colorectal cancer is being found in younger patients as well, even among people in their 20s.

Robert McIver, physician at Brooks Rehabilitation, highlighted the growing sophistication of virtual reality technology. “The other day my son told me he climbed Mount Everest,” he said.

Virtual reality can also help rehab patients who, while wearing headsets, can hit virtual tennis balls or simulate a boxing match. It helps motivate patients who then lift their arms higher and put in more effort. “In a video game, people get competitive,” he said.

It can also help patients practice adaptive driving methods at no risk.

UF Health physician Kelly Gray-Eurom spoke on reducing readmissions by using artificial intelligence to comb through electronic health records for patients, allowing medical staff to more easily find pertinent information on forms that could have more than 200,000 data points.

Gray-Eurom said the hospital also is using “social determinants of health” — looking at patients' ZIP Codes to find their access to good food and asking questions such as if they have a car or are worried about paying bills. All that can help medical staff determine the best way to provide care, she said.

Baptist Health neurosurgeon Ricardo Hanel issued a warning about the risks of intracranial aneurysms, noting that in the audience of 300, there were likely 12 people who have an aneurysm. To ensure they get help before it bursts, he stressed the need for primary doctors to assess a patient’s family history of aneurysms.

There are minimally invasive ways to treat them, he said. And he spoke of how he prepared to perform successful surgery on an 8-year-old boy by first training on a 3-D printed copy of the boy’s aneurysm.

The other speakers were Abubakr Bajwa of St. Vincent’s on state-of-the-art pulmonary medicine; Baptist’s Jennifer Crozier on novel clinical trials for breast oncology; Brooks’ Emily Fox on assistive robotic technology for spinal-cord patients; Memorial physician Husain Abbas on the future of robotic surgery in treating obesity; and UF Health’s John Catanzaro on advances in biomedical device technology.

During the event, several physicians paid tribute to UF Health Jacksonville CEO Leon Haley who was killed in an accident last July, noting the work he’d put in to advance health care in the area and promote cooperation in the city's medical community.



bottom of page