Maker Story: Samantha Houser

I’ve always wanted to do a hack-a-thon. Some of my classmates and I began looking at some options in the Midwest, but we didn’t think we could take that much time out of our studies to participate. That’s when my classmates had the idea – why don’t we bring a health-related hack-a-thon to Illinois?

That’s how Carle Illinois’ first Health Mirror Make-a-thon got started. Myself and twenty-eight other medical students and citizen scientists gathered on Saturday, December 1st to come up with an idea that answers the question, “What if healthy living was as simple as looking in a mirror?”

We were placed in groups of about six people, selected based on our backgrounds and experiences. To begin, each member of my group developed three to six ideas on our own. Then, we mini-pitched our ideas to each other. After discussing pros and cons, questioning the feasibility, and determining if there was a definite need for each idea, one idea emerged.

Our Idea

We thought of a concept that we’re calling the Health Concierge. With the Health Concierge, patients are given an iPad, or they can download an app on their own device, which will stick with them the entire time they’re in the doctor’s office. They’d use this app to fill out all required forms and report their symptoms. Then, when they’re waiting for their turn to see the doctor, they have the opportunity to learn more about their health issues.

For example, if they indicated that they have diabetes, the app would offer videos or interactive information to further educate them on their condition. The idea to is “gameify” the wait time, but as patients read the articles and answer questions at the end for comprehension, they’re learning about their condition, which increases their likelihood of taking their medications, following the doctor’s instructions, and investing in their overall health long-term. We’re also hoping that this would incentivize insurance companies – as patients invest in their health, they could gain points that would accumulate to reduce their copay. For the physicians, the patients become more knowledgeable about their problems, and hopefully more apt to act on healthy choices in the future.

Presenting Our Idea

The time came to present our idea to a team of highly impressive judges – ranging from Dean Li of Carle Illinois to Dean Bashir of The Grainger College of Engineering to Jim Leonard, the CEO of Carle. It surprisingly wasn’t intimidating, because through their ongoing support during the Make-a-thon and throughout our education, we know they really want to see us succeed. Because it was a one-day event, we only needed to pitch the concept, and we didn’t need to have the solution fully fleshed out. This allowed us to focus more on the quality of our ideas.

Stewarding the Winning Idea

We ended up winning! Not only did our team win $2500, we also will get to take our idea to the Health Maker Lab, an investment worth an additional $10,000. And, we’ll get to present our concept at the Health Maker Lab competition in April.

In my first year of medical school where I’m learning so much about how to execute medicine, it’s very important to participate in activities that exercise my creativity. I’m grateful that the make-a-thon has become a part of the culture at Carle Illinois. It really shows how excited the faculty and staff are about innovation in medicine, and it shows how they’re trusting us as students to be the harbingers of that.

Sometimes I don’t think I’m the right person to be trusted with these opportunities, but every time, my doubt is met with encouragement from our professors. Our associate dean for research, Marty Burke, says, “As long as it makes an impact, that’s what matters.” It doesn’t matter how you make that impact – if it’s for engineering or medicine, for one person or the world –  your idea has just as much value. I don’t know if I can change the world, but if I can improve just someone’s quality of life, it’ll be enough.