Newborn Care Shines at Health App Hackathon

One team was awarded $10,000 for a proposal to improve patient care with a field-specific calculator for physicians who treat newborns.

March 27, 2017

sph hackathon

Ten teams participated in a medical app proposal competition on Friday at the Milken Institute School of Public Health. The winning team was awarded $10,000 to develop its idea. (Logan Werlinger/ GW Today)

By Kristen Mitchell

Jessica Herstek, a hospitalist at Children’s National Health System, said she has spent the last four years trying to figure out a way to make newborn care more efficient for doctors, who often spend valuable time with their smallest patients doing manual calculations.

Tracking weight loss and infection with complicated equations is a critical part of caring for a newborn, but this math can be time consuming, Dr. Herstek said. She believes she has a solution to the problem: A field-specific medical calculator mobile application for care providers. Physicians would be able to plug in data points and quickly get the information they need.

Increasing physician efficiency during appointments is key, Dr. Herstek said. Newborn health can deteriorate drastically over just a few hours, and doctors often see up to 40 patients a day. The high patient volume leaves only about 10 minutes for each evaluation. Her proposal for the mobile application “BabyData” would improve time with patients by forgoing manual calculations.

“The newborn time is a critical time in life and things change quickly,” she said. “It’s important to get critical care in that period, and we don’t have the tools.”

Dr. Herstek presented her proposal Friday as part of a medical software application competition sponsored by the Clinical and Translational Science Institute at Children’s National, a partnership between Children’s National Health System and George Washington University. She was awarded a $10,000 voucher to work with a software development company and create a prototype of the BabyData app.

Her team included Mohammad Abu-Rub, who works in neurology at GW Hospital; Jessica Castillo, interim director of the School of Medicine and Health Sciences’ Upward Bound Program; and Saud Aljuhani, who works at a startup and developed the initial prototype.

Dr. Abu-Rub said he is excited for the opportunity to fill a necessary gap in patient coverage and lessen the burden on caregivers.

“You want to try and make things simple for people who are under stress,” he said. “It fills a very specific need that is important.”

The BabyData team was one of 10 to present their ideas in front of a panel of judges at the Milken Institute School of Public Health Friday. The groups submitted their proposals in January and were given an hour Friday to develop a final, five-minute presentation and vie for the $10,000 prize.

Kevin Cleary, technical director of Children’s National bioengineering initiative, helped organize the event along with Sean Cleary, a SPH associate professor. Kevin Cleary said the goal was to create a space to bring people together across disciplines to flesh out their ideas.

“It’s easy to have an idea,” Kevin Cleary said. “It’s a little harder to execute and figure out how to run with that idea.”

The hackathon was the first event of its kind to bring together students and staff at both institutions to discuss medical and public health innovations.

Other app proposals included an app to help health care providers navigate a range of reproductive health options with female patients and an app that will help patients keep up with physical therapy after surgery or hospitalization with regular reminders and instruction.

After the judges were dismissed to consider the 10 proposals participants voted for their favorite. The winner was an app that will help health care providers diagnose pediatric strokes, which involves prompts to ask the patient a series of questions like “what month is it” or “where is mom” based on age. The existing scale for diagnosing strokes is paper-based and typically reserved for adults, despite thousands of reported child strokes every year.

Before breaking into small groups to begin work on their presentation, participants heard from Shelly Heller and Timothy Wood, professors in the Department of Computer Science. Dr. Heller said it was important to understand the user’s needs and how the app would keep collected data secure. Dr. Wood talked about how to build an effective and simple user interface.

Lindi Ricci, associate director for digital health programs in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, spoke about how apps can be useful to diabetes patients who have to track their glucose levels multiple times a day. With a smartphone application, they could keep track of that information easily, she said.

The FDA regulates a small number of health-related applications considered medical devices to make sure users who manage their own medical care are able to do so safely and effectively.

“Everybody has a smartphone,” Dr. Ricci said. “It’s changing how we interact and our expectations on how we interact.”