Design / Health

These Jefferson students are co-inventing tomorrow’s healthcare technology

Pitch summit JeffSolves gives a platform for practitioners to spearhead innovation in routine healthcare. One group called their invention the only product improvement in 50 years.

Screengrab from Shark Tank episode 26, Season 5.

Remember that “new” Thomas Jefferson University’s plans for “interprofessional and transdisciplinary approaches to learning”? They’re still going strong.

JeffSolves is an initiative that convenes the Jefferson community to crowdsource innovation and introduce solution-driven medical products. Now in its third year, JeffSolves gives students an extracurricular outlet to innovate out of passion. Beyond the program, JeffSolves aims to make innovation a part of the common vernacular and global healthcare curriculum.

After months of brainstorming, research and iterative development, four teams comprising medical and industrial design students came together on Oct. 18 to present their innovations at JeffSolves’ pitch summit. Armed with provisional patent filings, the teams presented to almost 170 faculty members, students, investors and others to gain feedback and maybe even investments for clinical trials.

The inventions tackled common procedures. Epistion found a better way to administer epidurals especially for pregnant patients, Flip Catch innovated urine collection, Tilt improved the universally dreaded pelvic exam and Soriya improved scalp psoriasis medicine application.

The beauty of the program is its collaborative focus. Students started the program in the spring with a kickoff even that brought in doctors to talk about general problems in the field. They were put in teams based on their interests and worked with 10XBeta to put their designs into practice. The teams also had access to the entire Jefferson community.

“We made this on a Wednesday, and on Thursday we would walk across the street to the ED and find four or five pregnant women and test it out,” said Vikram Eswar, Epistion team member and medical student. “The fact that we get that instant feedback was absolutely amazing. The doctors were always open to meet with us, it was huge for them to be a part of this process. Having an industrial design student, too, gaining that different perspective was awesome.”

JeffDESIGN, the Sidney Kimmel Medical College program that trains med students in design thinking, was itself pitched by Dr. Bon Ku, assistant dean and associate professor at the college. As a practitioner, Dr. Ku noticed problems with medical products and thought of the program as a way to bring practitioners into the design space.

“It was an experiment at first,” he said. “Can we actually get people with no engineering backgrounds to create prototypes of medical devices? It worked because we’re not obsessed with the technology, it’s about the problem that the patient is facing, the problem the clinician is facing, developing empathy for the end user, and then thinking about a solution.”

Dr. Ku emphasized that teaching students to apply this creativity to the rest of their careers is a main focus.

“It’s really resonated with students that they can apply creativity to medicine,” he said. “Every year that we do this, people are blown away because the solutions are so creative and when people think about healthcare they don’t think it’s a creative field — [they think] it is a field that is maybe anti-creative. Our dream and our vision was how can we design healthcare to be better, how can we make it a beautiful experience for both patients and clinicians, and how can we apply our creativity for making devices.”

The results are there, too: 2016 JeffSolves alumni Circalux continued working on their product for improving patient sleep in hospitals and was able to do clinical trials within three years. And this year’s competitors have their sights set on real-world impact, too.

“I put the current state of our project in my portfolio and instantly they were impressed with the depth and the mechanistic development,” said Anthony DiFranco, Flip Catch team member and design student, “as well as the fact that we’re getting a patent.”

Companies: Thomas Jefferson University
People: Bon Ku

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