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Osler contest challenges bright young minds to develop mobile apps

By Neil Zeidenberg

BRAMPTON, ONT. – William Osler Health System in January announced that a team of four grad students from the University of Toronto has won its second annual National Student App Contest. Victor Chen, Haley Liu, Jerry Tang and Cory Blumenfeld won for their app, called Outpatient, which focuses on lowering the number of patient re-admissions to hospital.

Outpatient features include: a list of discharge instructions for patients; an opportunity for patients to set alerts and reminders for medication, appointments, or important milestones in their recovery; an ability to tailor a care plan based on the set of discharge instructions they select; and a section of FAQs to help guide patients in deciding whether they should seek medical care after discharge.

The competition was held last November at a hackathon-style event, which attracted teams of high school, undergrad and graduate students. The purpose was to develop an innovative Android mobile app to help improve the patient experience at Brampton Civic and Etobicoke General Hospitals. The toughest part – they were given only 48-hours!

“Students were asked to build an app based on self-management, and not everyone competed live,” said Susan deRyk, joint vice-president, patient experience, communication and strategy, Central West CCAC, Headwaters Health Care and William Osler Health System. “Being that it’s a national competition, not everyone could be in Brampton, so we allowed teams to participate remotely via Twitter, Facebook or e-mail.”

Early on, Osler tech-experts were on-hand so participants could ask specific questions about the app, and to ensure teams were on the right path. As an indication of how difficult it is to finish, let alone win the competition, only nine of the 14 teams that participated managed to submit a viable app.

The winning team was presented with $10,000, compliments of Fieldpoint Service Applications Inc. – a software management company based in Oakville, Ont. “Fieldpoint got to be part of the panel, to help support healthcare and play a role in helping the next generation of IT experts,” said deRyk.

The judging panel was comprised of key members of Osler’s IT staff; an industry leader from Fieldpoint and a member of Osler’s patient experience team. When asked what the panel looks for in choosing the winning app, deRyk said, “The apps were judged on criteria such as originality; positive impact on patients; design and function; and providing a great user-experience.”

Examples of these criteria can be found in last year’s winning app – developed by Atinder Singh Multani. Called HosNav, it’s a way-finding app that helps patients navigate through the labyrinth of hallways in a hospital without getting lost.

“Imagine Brampton Civic Hospital, one of our two hospitals, over 2-million square feet, and one of the largest hospitals in the province. HosNav can help you find your way to wherever you’re going, and provides you with information to prepare you for diagnostic testing, and what to do in advance – what to eat or not eat, what to wear and what to expect. It greatly improves the user experience,” said deRyk.

To date, HosNav has been downloaded over 500 times and it’s used in the organization every day. “If you’re coming to an appointment, it tells you which parking lot to use, and provides maps so you know how to get to your appointment, said deRyk. “At a minimum, I use it many times a day. It’s also rewarding to see others plugging it into their phones and using it too.”

Multani, was asked about the challenges he faced in creating a useful app in such a short time. “The biggest challenge in developing was thinking about hospital management and patients as end users at the same time. I had to build something user- friendly by working around hospital infrastructure and management needs.”

Despite the youth of contest participants, deRyk believes the contest can be successful because participants look at things from a different perspective.

Moreover, many had a significant connection to healthcare and were motivated to helping support the patient experience. “I think these are exactly the right kinds of folks to get involved in building apps like this. They’re visionaries, non-conventional and they’re seeking new solutions to problems.

These students look at things differently than those who have been in the field for a long time. That’s what makes it fresh, and they reach a little farther.”

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