Sabin Dang, MD, didn’t have as clear-cut of a journey to the ophthalmic world as many would expect. While today he spends his working hours improving visual outcomes of patients at Ophthalmic Consultants of Boston, a few years ago one would have found him creating coding software in his IT consulting company to help businesses grow.
“There’s not that many people who make that switch,” he said. “I don’t know many people who have.”
Having created an IT consulting company while in college, Dr. Dang’s goal was to help companies streamline their workflow and shave off expenses. His talent in the technology sector was recognized while he was conducting visual processing research at MIT after completing his undergraduate education. After creating and implementing specific MRI software, he was awarded the “MIT Excellence Award,” the highest honor awarded to staff.
After a few years in the technology sector, he soon realized that at the end of the workday, he wasn’t satisfied with the work that he was doing. He remembers a situation in which a company with automated systems for which he created coding ended up downsizing three employees because of software he had written.
“That was absolutely the wrong direction I wanted to go,” he said. “I was helping businesses, but I wasn’t helping people.”
That was one of many factors that played into Dr. Dang’s decision to make a transition to medicine, where he felt he could make a tangible difference in people’s lives. And for him, it was clear as to which medical field he would choose.
“I’m a big techie. I don’t think there’s any field that’s more high-tech than what we do. The sheer number of new equipment and cutting-edge technology, surgery, and imaging equipment . . . for me it ended up being a no-brainer,” he explained. “I get all the cool toys and I get to do what I love. Sign me up!”
He attended medical school at the Charles R. Drew/UCLA Medical Education program, and is currently in his last year of vitreoretinal fellowship at Tufts New England Eye Center/Ophthalmic Consultants of Boston.
Coming from an IT background that focused on working with imaging-based companies, ophthalmology was a smooth merger of his passion for tinkering, and his drive to make a positive difference in people’s lives.
“I was able to bring my skillset over from IT and directly apply some of the things in terms of ophthalmology research,” he said.
Integrating his skills
One of the most innovative ways Dr. Dang has merged his medical and technological skillsets is in creating his own EHR.
After working with multiple health record programs, he realized they all have a different focus, whether that be on the most accurate billing or best compliance. However, they all seemed to be missing the bigger picture.
“There’s been a disconnect between the software vendors and what we’re actually doing in clinic,” he said. “There are ways to hit compliance and hit all the coding, but still at the core of it make the primary focus the physician-patient interaction. That’s where I feel like current technology is really lacking, so I tried to come up with a system from the ground up.”
His EHR attempts to shift the focus from “checking off boxes” to optimizing the physical experience with the patient. His concept allows for dictation and comparison of refractive outcomes and complications with specialists in the same practice, and nationally. It also includes a type of digital assistant that he said can help the specialist wade through the large amounts of data in the system, he said.
Rather than marketing or monetizing his concept (which can be viewed at http://bit.ly/2aNamRv), Dr. Dang uses it as a proof-of-concept and talking point with clinicians and others in the technology sector for the direction that ophthalmic technology can progress in by focusing on the physician-patient interaction.
“I want to make clinic more efficient and I want physicians to have more time with the patient,” he said. “Technology can get us back to that as opposed to what it’s doing more recently, which is taking us away from that.”
Despite his busy schedule, Dr. Dang makes it a point to continue tinkering in his spare time. One of his favorite ways to incorporate his love for technology and programming with his family is with Lego Mindstorms.
“It’s the coolest toy ever invented,” he explained, admitting he had to have the new gadget even before he had children. The product offers users (children and adults alike) the ability to learn basic programming to create a robot that can accomplish a specific task.
“You can make it a game with your kids,” he said. “I like engaging my daughter in terms of being creative. We have a really great time with it.”
Dr. Dang and his 4½-year old daughter create various projects, such as creating a robot that pushes balls off the table without falling over itself, and creating a mechanism that makes a buzzing sound every time the door is opened so they can know when his 10-month-old is “on-the-move.”
“I still love to tinker with technology,” he said. “It’s a creative outlet for me that I find fun, but long gone are those days of 12-hour programming sessions!”
Upon completing his fellowship in 2017, Dr. Dang will practice at The Retina Institute in St. Louis.