Chief of Neurology, Kaiser Permanente, and Co-Chair, Wireless Communications Initiative
By Duffy Jennings, Valley Vision Editor
It’s a familiar story: East Coast boy comes to Stanford for undergrad in the early 1980s, falls in love (with the Bay Area, computer technology and a girl), goes off to medical school, eventually finds his way back here to live and work.
That he is an esteemed physician fascinated with technology, especially its potential to change health care as we know it, is a bonus, for Joint Venture as well as for his patients.
The protagonist in this story is Dr. Edwin (Ted) Tasch, chief of neurology at Kaiser Permanente in Santa Clara and, for the past year, co-chair of Joint Venture’s Wireless Communications initiative.
“I was always interested in technology,” a lab-coated Tasch said during a visit in his fourth-floor office at Kaiser’s Santa Clara Medical Center. “I remember when I was ten my father had one of the first mechanical calculators, a Bowman.
“My first year at Stanford in 1983 was the year the Macintosh came out, and then while I was in medical school in Montreal we were using PalmPilots, which was a big deal then. I loved the idea of this portable little thing that could do so much.”
When Tasch arrived at Kaiser in 1993 as a neurologist and epilepsy expert, a brand new PC with the first generation Intel Pentium processor greeted him on his desk.
“Kaiser was already talking about leveraging technology in health care, and I wanted to be part of it,” Tasch recalls. “I wrote an innovation proposal to get a PalmPilot and keyboard. I thought it was a huge request. I didn’t realize other departments were proposing projects that cost hundreds of thousands. I not only got it approved, but then I was asked to chair the innovations committee.”
A year ago when Joint Venture launched its Wireless Communications Initiative to work for a better regional broadband infrastructure and ubiquitous connectivity, Kaiser Physician-in-Chief Susan Smarr, a Joint Venture board member, encouraged Tasch to get involved.
"I immediately thought of Ted because of his background and experience in IT and innovation," said Dr. Smarr. "Ted is a naturally curious person, always thinking about how to do things differently, more effectively, and how technology can aid a physician. He's been a real champion for electronic medical records. He was instrumental in designing the rollout for EMR training for Kaiser back in 2005."
Dr. Smarr added that Tasch led the development of the technology for remote evaluation of potential stroke patients in emergency rooms by neurologists who may not be near the hospital when time is critical for treatment of such patients. "We call it power neurology," she said. "It's been quite a game-changer for Kaiser throughout northern California."
“I saw the health benefits of broadband in the burgeoning field of telemedicine, and I wanted to lend my support and presence to the efforts in that area,” says Tasch.
“The broadband connection in Silicon Valley is not as strong as it is in some third world countries,” he says. “We need to educate our government leaders that there is no health danger in cell signals. In fact, I believe it’s quite the opposite – that there are many health benefits that broadband can provide by way of faster, better care.
“What Joint Venture can do so well is to help facilitate the conversation between city councils and service providers in making decisions about locating cell towers. By law, city government cannot consider the health safety aspects of the equipment, only the aesthetics of where it goes. Only the FCC can certify the equipment as safe, and it has done that.”
Tasch was born in Stamford, Connecticut, to Edwin Sr. and Evelyn Tasch. His father commuted daily to his family’s furniture and moving supplies business on the lower East side of Manhattan while his mother worked as an interior decorator. From an early age, Tasch was called “Teddy” while his younger brother, Edward, was called “Woody.” Woody is the founder of the Slow Money Group and author of “Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing As If Food, Farms and Fertility Mattered.”
Neither of their parents graduated from college – Edwin Sr. left college to fight the Germans in World War II and went directly to work upon his return – but it was always understood that the boys would go. Teddy attended prep school in Massachusetts before choosing Stanford.
“I fell in love with this area,” he says. “I always knew I would find a way to get back.”
During his sophomore year at Stanford, he met Rachel Felt, a student from Memphis who lived in the same dormitory, and they quickly became inseparable. Ted earned his B.S. in medical microbiology with honors and his B.A. in philosophy.
After graduation, they matriculated together to the University of Chicago, where Ted earned his M.D. at the Pritzker School of Medicine and Rachel earned her MBA.
From there it was north to Canada, where Ted completed his neurology residency at McGill University and a fellowship in epilepsy and electrophysiology at the Montreal Neurological Institute while Rachel worked as a consultant in the pharmaceutical industry.
Dr. Tasch is also certified in neurology and vascular neurology by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. He is on the clinical faculty at the Stanford University School of Medicine and participates in the activities of the Stanford Comprehensive Epilepsy Center.
He has published research on the care of and MRI findings in patients with seizure disorders, directs Kaiser’s Multiple Sclerosis Clinic and is active in a number of professional medical organizations.
Ted and Rachel were married in Memphis in 1989, and their two sons were born in Montreal. Sam is now 16 and Ethan is 14. A daughter, Joanna, now 10, was born here. Rachel is active in their local synagogue and other community endeavors.
"Ted is a real mensch," says Barry Asin, a friend and fellow men's group member at their synagogue, Beth Am, in Los Altos Hills. "He's warm, approachable, always willing to help out. He's a fun guy to be around."
Ted enjoys playing piano and guitar, but his recreational passion now is running. In 2007, when Kaiser launched its Thrive fitness campaign for employees and patients alike, Rachel urged her husband to join a fitness group.
His first outing was a brief run on the Los Gatos Creek Trail, which he found both exhausting and exhilarating. It quickly became a weekly event, then a half-marathon, then onto full marathons. He has run six so far, including one in Israel, and is now training for the Big Sur Marathon in April.
“Running has changed my life,” says Tasch. “Not just for the weight loss and stress reduction, but my overall sense of well-being.”
Though Tasch lives in Menlo Park, he still makes the trek to Los Gatos regularly to meet and train with his running group. “It’s a very special place,” he says.
Said like a guy living his dream – for family, work and community – a story with a happy ending.