“None of us is as smart as all of us,” said Elizabeth Bailey, Director of CAMTech, summarizing the spirit of the Stop Ebola Hackathon with a Japanese proverb and looking out at an audience of 119 multi-disciplinary professionals ranging from direct care-givers to entrepreneurs, academics, clinicians, designers, engineers, IT professionals, students and researchers. The group spent two exhausting days – December 13 and 14, 2014 – hacking Ebola at Mass General Hospital.
A hackathon is an ideal format when the challenge is as urgent as Ebola. Kris Olson, the Medical Director of CAMTech, spoke abotu this, saying that hackathons allow for the “democratizing of medical innovations.”
Olson, the CAMTech team and many mentors presented participants with this challenge at the beginning of the weekend: finding innovative solutions to the various pressing problems that Ebola presents. The problems are many, ranging from country to community levels and from major and manifold – from the 21 steps required to “don” and “doff” the PPE, to finding a vein in dehydrated patients. The solutions had to keep in mind the realities on the ground, too.
Dr. Hilarie Cranmer, Director of the Global Disaster Response at the Center for Global Health, MGH, was one of the 29 mentors at the event. She was also a judge and said she would be looking for solutions that kept in mind three things: “people, stuff and money.” For example, if the proposed solution was a device, could it withstand cleaning by chlorine? Problems caused by Ebola present many challenges – often the time horizon is short and the supply chain, critical. So Dr. Cranmer said she would be looking for solutions that could be implemented in the field rapidly.
During the weekend, Deborah Wilson, a registered nurse who worked directly with Ebola patients in Liberia, brought home the human impact of the Ebola crisis. Her heart-breaking stories of families torn apart – especially at a time when they needed to hold each other close – touched a chord with audience members. Dr. Michael Callahan, a medical expert and clinician, also spoke, giving an overview of the on-the-ground reality that the group would have to grapple with as they set about seeking solutions.
Energized by the prospect of finding solutions that could have a big impact, participants presented 46 pitches in the first round, taking on a range of issues: re-design of the PPE, the ETU, EMRs, patient tracking, nutrition for a community ravaged by disease, communication with patients and educational materials for care providers. Following these pitches, 17 teams were formed and each presented their proposed Ebola solutions on Sunday afternoon. Two honorable mentions were added to the prizes originally announced with the assurance from organizers that efforts would be made to connect these teams to needed resources.
The Medtronic Ebola Innovation Award
ProxiMe: A voice controlled, low-cost bracelet worn by patients to monitor heart rate and temperature, alerting healthcare workers of potential problems.
Team Members: Jessica Aubrey, Ellen Ball, Shauna Biggs, Sean Doyle, Adrian Gropper and Jim Wright
ProxiMe’s solution addressed the problem of isolated patients, patient privacy and local context. The $10 proximity beacon worn by the patient would monitor the two indicators that are a sign of worsening Ebola condition: temperature and heart rate. The $50 beeper worn by the caregiver would alert the health care worker of the situation. The voice-activated system could withstand chlorine and would be reusable.
MGH’s Best Innovation Award
Team RESCUE: A modular, turn-key, fully operational, scale-able Ebola treatment unit that can be assembled on site within 48 hours and can accommodate both patients and their families.
Team Members: Brian Bechard, Shayan Manzar, Sarah Michel, Dr. Evy Picker, Christopher Rae, Dr. Daniel Weglein
RESCUE’s solution addressed the problem of risk of continued disease transmission, substandard quality of care for Ebola patients and their families, cultural dissonance and displacement of disincentives to seeking care.
Vein Finder: A low cost vein finder to increase clinicians’ safety and to decrease patient suffering.
Team Members: Beatrice Lin and Jim Wright
USweat: A low cost head-band that can monitor dehydration in patients and healthcare workers.
Team members: Carmela Berlin, Joseph Brancale, Angela Dalembert, Benjamin Ho, Kerry Weinberg
Many people – most of whom had never met each other – came together at the Stop Ebola hackathon to find solutions to a terrifying global health problem. After the event, Wilson commented on the astonishing “lack of arrogance” amongst the participants. This event gave healthcare workers and innovators an opportunity to participate in humanitarian efforts without going to Africa, she explained. The participants’ efforts showed that distance doesn’t matter when it comes to caring.
Krina Patel is a writer/illustrator and educator committed to building provider-patient relationships. Dr. Patel’s doctoral research on the body and cognition at Harvard University and her experience adopting and promoting technology in education brings her to her current work in the health and technology sector. Follow her on Twitter, @positivelylearn.
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