UW-Milwaukee Students to Design Healthcare Apps for MCW

A searchable database of open clinical trials, a mobile calculator and calendar for helping patients on steroids decrease their dosage over time, and a mobile tracker for blood donors were among the winning ideas for apps pitched on Tuesday at the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW).

Twenty-two teams of mostly physicians and medical researchers from MCW presented, and six were chosen to be developed by a group of University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) undergrads.

The event was the first annual contest under a new partnership between UWM’s Mobile Innovation Lab—fondly dubbed the “App Brewery”—and MCW, based just west of Milwaukee in Wauwatosa. The App Brewery, launched a year ago, allows UWM students, mainly information technology and graphic design majors, to learn software development skills and build their resume as they create apps for outside organizations such as the Milwaukee County Transit System and Visit Milwaukee, the local tourism agency. There are currently 12 students working on the project, with plans to increase the program to 20 in the near future, UWM Chancellor Mike Lovell said.

When organizers of the pitch event solicited app proposals from MCW doctors, researchers, and staff, they anticipated receiving perhaps 20, Lovell said. They got 86. That number was whittled down to 22 for the all-day pitch contest, where a judging panel made up of MCW and App Brewery staff, local entrepreneurs, and community stakeholders selected the winners.

But the door isn’t closed on the other proposals, said Michael Hostad, UWM director of Web and mobile strategy, who oversees the App Brewery.

“All of these, every single [pitch] I saw yesterday, has validity and could benefit from future discussion and added development,” Hostad told Xconomy after the event. “We’re going to talk to all of them after the fact and see if there’s other ways we can explore seeing these things through to fruition, whether it’s a Web app or whatever it might be.”

The six winners were:

—The Friendly Base Deficit Analyzer: The app would take data from an analysis of a patient’s blood sample, then calculate if there is a deficit of base in the blood, Hostad said. Not enough base (or too much acid) in bodily fluids could be caused by issues like type 1 diabetes, a lactic acid buildup, kidney disease, or severe dehydration, according to the National Institutes of Health. The app would save doctors the time it normally takes to perform those acid-base calculations, Hostad said.

—Steroid Taper Calculator and Calendar Creator: This would help prescribers and other healthcare providers devise a plan for patients on steroids to safely and gradually decrease their doses, so that the adrenal gland has time to adjust and doesn’t develop symptoms from an abrupt stoppage, said MCW spokeswoman Maureen Mack.

—Life Saver Blood Donation Application: This would help people keep track of when they last donated blood and locate local blood drives, Mack said.

—Physical Examination Mobile Application: This educational tool would help medical students learn to perform physical exams on patients, Mack said.

—REACH: This app would provide a “one-stop shop” for clinical trial enrollment, including a searchable database of open clinical trials and a simple checklist for determining patient eligibility for specific trials.

—A mobile app to collect feedback from medical residents and their attending physicians, thereby increasing communication between the two sides and helping attending physicians hone their teaching skills, Mack said.

App Brewery officials said they see the UWM undergrads’ lack of healthcare background as a potential benefit because it will put the students outside their comfort zone, forcing them to get more engaged and take the time to truly understand what they’re working on and its implications.

Although education and creating useful products for MCW are two of the underlying goals of the partnership, some of the apps do have commercialization potential, Hostad said.

“I think that’s always in the back of our heads,” Hostad said. “It’s not necessarily a focus, but we want to be able to support it if the opportunity is there.”

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