Tufts MedStart pushes for patient access

Tufts MedStart hosted the Blue Button Boston Innovation Challenge at the Tufts University School of Medicine last month, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Resource’s Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) [email protected] Medicine.

Tufts MedStart is a student organization consisting of participants in the dual MD/ MBA program, which partners Tufts and Brandeis University to focus on global entrepreneurship in the field of healthcare.

The challenge was a weekend-long event that brought together individuals from a variety of fields to create projects that improve patients’ access to their own medical data as part of the Blue Button movement, according to Director of the MD/MBA Health Management Program at Tufts, Dr. Joe Jabre.

“The concept is that three days with the right people – designing people, programming people, financing people, medical people, medical students, MBA students – can result in a startup,” he said.

The event began with participants pitching project proposals. Then participants recruited a team from the pool of students and professionals in attendance, and concluded in the team presenting their work to a panel of judges, according to Tufts MedStart co-founder Eric Schwaber, a second year medical student.

“We put these people together, gave them the space, the resources, mentorship, food and all the things that they need to work out their ideas and cultivate them into a business plan which they then presented at the end of the weekend,” he said.

Tufts MedStart hoped to give students the opportunity to interact with experts in healthcare that could help turn their ideas into reality, Jabre said.

“Globally speaking, if there is one single goal for this, it is to get people who have ideas to network with other people who can actually make the idea happen,” Jabre said.

Schwaber believes that the experience provided by this event is unique for most medical students, he said.

“I want to bring fuller … and more innovative thinking to students earlier on in their medical career, because I don’t think that students are really exposed to healthcare outside of the clinical aspects until much later in their career,” Schwaber said. “I think that this a great way to have students get exposed to aspects outside of just the classroom.”

According to Schwaber, four teams received awards. The recipients included teams that created an application to help patients more easily access their medical data, a web based tool that recommended preventative care to patients, a bracelet that acts an electronic health record device and an application that conducts head injury diagnostic tests.

“The judges were very impressed,” he said. “They found it very difficult to narrow down the choices and teams that were winners, and that is a testament to the fact that the teams presented such great ideas.”

Student organizer Rohan Jotwani is optimistic that many of the teams will continue working on their projects beyond the weekend so that they may have a lasting impact.

“I think we will see a lot of these projects pop up over the next couple of months,” Jotwani, a first year medical student, said. “We have been keeping pretty close contact with our teams since the event happened, and they are all still meeting and collaborating on their ideas.”

Prior to teaming up, Tufts MedStart and MIT [email protected] Medicine had separate events scheduled for the same weekend, according to Jotwani.

“Rather than divide the community in half, we said why don’t we work together?” he said. “We were able to bring them in for a meeting, and we jived really well. At the time, we were all trying to see larger partnerships that we could work in.”

Tufts MedStart also reached out to the ONC to join an initiative they already had to promote hackathons pertaining to healthcare information and data, Jotwani said.

“We said that we have the venue, all the people, and we would really like to host a hackathon for the White House and the ONC, to talk about new patient data,” he said. 

Over 80 student and professionals participated in this event, almost doubling the number of participants involved last year, which was the its first time being held, according to Schwaber.

“My goal is to make this an annual event so we can continue to bring entrepreneurship to Tufts Medical School,” he said.