In his 30 years of practicing medicine, Dr. Brian Tjarks has always been an innovator.
From being a part of the committee that brought electronic doctor visits to South Dakota, to utilizing new health care technology, it's only fitting that Tjarks was named Sanford Health's Innovator of the Year during a March 1 banquet in Sioux Falls.
Specializing in acute care, Tjarks has been looking for ways to stay on the cutting edge of health care technology. But he's not alone in his journey, thanks in large part to the health company he's been working under for the past 11 years.
"It all started with these electronic visits about five years ago, and ever since I've been able to help contribute to Sanford with my own set of ideas," Tjarks said. "The younger generation does not want to sit and wait for a doctor visit, and that's kind of the mindset we used in implementing video visits."
The technology allows patients have the opportunity to get examined from home or afar by submitting a photo or doing a live video appointment with a Sanford doctor.
Still in its infancy, Tjarks said the video visits have been very successful, and he feels it's a testament to Sanford's interest in staying on the cutting edge of medical technology.
"There is evidence that we've proved patients can do doctor visits without a physical exam, and some examples include, urinary tract infections, rashes and sinus infections," Tjarks said of the video visits. "We can communicate back-and-forth through patients' 'My Chart' account as well, so it's been great seeing how well patients have embraced the video visits."
Tjarks' latest project has been implementing a recently unveiled medical device called TytoCare into his Mitchell practice. The device is a digital otoscope and stethoscope that allows patients to see what doctors can see through an app on their phone when they're examining a particular area of the body. (Sanford Health invested in the TytoCare technology in January, as part of the company's fundraising as a telehealth startup, and in return, Sanford will help expand the use of the technology in its footprint.)
Tjarks is the first Sanford doctor in Mitchell to use the digital device, and he's been pleased with the results so far. He said the main objective with the TytoCare technology is to slash patients' wait time to be less than 20 minutes.
Tjarks said the device has the capability to survey and take readings for the heart, lungs and ears. It can also take high-resolution pictures of the mouth, throat, skin and eyes.
"You're able to see what I'm seeing on a video call, and you start the visit with your phone," Tjarks said of the TytoCare stethoscope. "This stethoscope can actually help me hear better than I can with a regular one."
Tjarks was also part of designing Sanford's new clinic in downtown Sioux Falls, which he said was a unique experience.
"I was a part of that committee, and we were tasked with putting a full clinic with labs and x-rays into a 900-square-foot building," he said of the Sanford clinic that's attached to Lewis Drug in downtown Sioux Falls.
Away from the clinic, Tjarks looks for ways to use new technology, as he said he owns five 3D printers at home.
"I love playing with new technology, and it keeps me young," Tjarks said with a laugh.
Growing up in Twin Falls, Idaho, Tjarks and his wife Susan have lived in Mitchell for 30 years. The University of South Dakota medical school graduate said he appreciates the chance to make an impact on the state's health care system. But aside from the honors, Tjarks said his love for helping patients is what motivates his daily work.
"I love helping patients," Tjarks said. "It's why I truly love this profession."