A new approach to health tech

Alejandra Cordova, right, an Altus Academy parent, gives feedback to a student team that includes Gina Mulanthara OT, and Angeli Mata DPT.
Photo: Samantha Bond

“Remember, you will be evaluated not just on the product you pitch, but on how well you listen to the families who are participating today,” said Samantha Bond, visiting clinical assistant professor of physical therapy and biomedical information sciences, during a Saturday event at Altus Academy.

She was addressing more than 50 students from UIC’s College of Applied Health Sciences in the cafeteria of the nonprofit elementary school on Chicago’s West Side. The UIC students came together to brainstorm new health care technology ideas.

Shortly after Bond’s announcement, a group of Altus kids and their parents joined the group, where they provided feedback on the ideas — mostly for new smartphone applications — that the UIC students had been developing all morning.

The event, called the Health Tech Jam, is about helping students in the health sciences hone their ability to collaborate across disciplines and understand the role of technology in the health care system and how it can help patients.

“I participated in the Health Tech Jam because I thought it would be a great opportunity to apply the communication and design skills developed in our program to real-world problems and maybe walk away with an idea that’s worth developing into a real product,” said Leo Swanson, a 2020 master’s degree candidate in the biomedical visualization program.

This is the second time the college has hosted the event, which launched in 2018 but the first time it included a “patient” perspective, provided by Altus families.

“Feedback from the Altus families was a critical part of this event,” Bond said. “We want students to adopt a patient-centered approach to care and we want them to have experience working with members of the community.”

Solutions are only solutions, she said, if people are going to use them in everyday life.

“It was a fantastic opportunity to work with the Altus families because it was a reality check for us to understand whether or not our app would actually be catering to the needs of members of the community,” said Bendita Qian, a fourth-year undergraduate majoring in integrated health studies and minoring in life science visualization. “Not only was the feedback they gave genuine, well-intentioned and often rooted in personal experience, it also helped us check the privilege we were entering the space with.”

AHSstudents Bendita Qian (left) and Leo Swanson (center) with the MedQ team at the 2019 Health Tech Jam.
Photo: Samantha Bond

Swanson and Qian’s team was the winner of the “Shark Tank”-style pitch that brought the eight-hour event to a close.

“Our project, MedQ, was an interactive form that patients would complete in the waiting room,” Swanson said. “A lot of current patient data forms require time-intensive transcription from paper into online medical records. MedQ could not only automate this process, it could personalize itself to the needs of a patient.”

“Our inspiration behind creating MedQ was to improve the communication between individuals/families of minority communities and health care professionals,” Qian said. “The visual representation of symptoms through the app eases language barriers and would help physicians make more accurate diagnoses and being able to select the phrases at the end would grant patients more self-advocacy when it comes to voicing their thoughts and feelings to health care professionals.”

Swanson said, “The best part of the event was the collaborative atmosphere. Students, professionals and families all felt like they had something unique and important to contribute.”

Qian said, “I was able to get a first-hand experience of how powerful collaboration is, especially when it involves people of all ages, backgrounds, fields of study, experiences, and more. I learned structured content from the facilitated workshops, but I also learned a ton simply from working with and talking to my team members — for example, learning about paper prototyping from Leo blew my mind.

“Honestly, the best part of the event to me was getting to work with two students from the master’s in BVIS program because I’m considering following in their footsteps and seeing them in action was really inspiring,” Qian said.