Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Children, doctors and architects pitch ideas for a new children’s hospital at unique hackathon

By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

Imagine a hospital designed by a child, for a child. Instead of white walls, there are imaginative paintings and vibrant images all around the hospital. Uninspiring waiting areas are replaced with kids’ entertainment zones where children play and learn, and the hospital’s atmosphere is specially designed to make children feel at home.
That’s what a children’s hospital of the future looks like; according to children, doctors, nurses, engineers, entrepreneurs, architects and other professionals who came together to design a kids’ healthcare centre of the future at the first-ever paediatric hackathon hosted by Aga Khan University (AKU), Hack Paeds 2017. 

The three-day event saw over 110 participants of all ages and a variety of disciplines collaborate to develop innovative proposals that could be introduced at the Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH)’s planned 12-storey Children’s Hospital. 

The participants at the hackathon, spread over three days, were assisted by 12 mentors with backgrounds as diverse as entrepreneurship, architecture and design, business, and paediatric medicine.

Divided into 16 teams, hackers developed a variety of ideas aimed at improving the hospital experience for children who are often anxious and uncomfortable. Some teams worked to adapt medical instruments like stethoscopes so that it would be easier to measure a sick child’s heartbeat. 

Others sought to create innovative designs for brightly coloured ‘medical flaps’ that would help doctors insert a cannula without alarming a child. Away from devices, other teams developed systems to improve child protection services for vulnerable kids and ways to help children keep up with schoolwork while admitted to hospital. Many hackers also worked on innovative designs for hospital waiting areas that would help young patients feel comfortable while in a new environment. 

“The world of a child is different from that of an adult. Playfulness is in their nature and their spirit isn’t burdened by responsibility. Children’s hospitals will always need to have the best facilities for healthcare but the atmosphere of a hospital should be centered on the needs and personality of a child so that they are open while speaking to doctors. The purpose of this multidisciplinary hackathon is to pool together different types of expertise to create innovative proposals for a state-of-the-art, unique, cost-effective hospital that will feel familiar and comfortable to a child,” Dr Salman Kirmani, chair of the Department of Paediatrics at Aga Khan University, remarked. 

Judges at the event scored each team’s solution on the basis of healthcare impact, innovation, business model, children-centricity and presentation skills. 

The following teams won the top prizes at the hackathon:

1. Stealth: a wearable belt that enables computer analysis of heart conditions. The device aims to reduce errors in the manual diagnosis of heart disease. 

2. Genesis: a system using virtual reality technology to entertain children admitted to hospital. 

3. Onco-Buzz: an application that provides information to families whose child is suffering from cancer to help them maintain the continuity of treatment. 

Speaking about the need for novel thinking in children’s healthcare, AKUH CEO Hans Kedzierski, said: “Creating a healing atmosphere in a hospital for children means that parents no longer have to keep their child occupied and distracted as they wait for the unknown procedures that might create anxiety. Children will feel comfortable in an environment that has been built just for them and this means that the recovery process will be less stressful for the parents too. 

“Hackathons are one of the most vibrant ways to create innovative solutions. The 16 teams had just two days to tackle real-world paediatric issues while ensuring that their solution would be received well by young patients. As a judge we all found it very difficult to decide the most innovative solution. However, Team Stealth’s pitch will make diagnosis for heart disease available to many more people thereby widening access to care. That’s why we choose team Stealth for the top prize. I’d like to congratulate all the teams on their hard work. It is great to see young people working hard to create a futuristic children’s hospital for Pakistan.” 

Dr Asad Mian, Associate Professor at AKU and one of the lead organisers of the event, said: “Innovation within a society comes from the bottom up – it is the work of individuals who, when faced with constraints, take it upon themselves to find solutions. This is particularly relevant for paediatrics as our children deserve to be the foremost recipients of resourceful and innovative healthcare. I’ve seen some great ideas at the hackathon that are sorely needed. The participants have made great progress in just a few days and I look forward to seeing how they build upon these ideas.”
A host of international speakers and local experts delivered inspirational speeches during the event to help guide the teams at the Hackathon. 

The speakers included David Arthur, dean of the School of Nursing and Midwifery at AKU; Kate Donovan, chief innovation officer at Boston Children’s Hospital; Christopher Lee, co-founder of US-based drug delivery technology firm Recon Thereapeutics and Ayesha Khalid, a surgeon and one of the leading figures involved in MIT’s Hacking Medicine initiative. 

Supported by the Department of Paediatrics, AKU, and the Children’s Hospital service line at AKUH, the event was organised by the Critical Creative Innovative Thinking forum which is an educational, training and research programme seeking to foster creativity and innovation in biomedicine and healthcare.