This is my last blog post of the semester and as such I figured it would be a good a time as any to present a brief overview of my semester, the opportunities Rice and the GMI program have presented me with, and the flow, challenges, and successes of the different projects I’ve had a hand in.
I won’t go much into the summer, there are enough blog posts on our experiences already. But as a reminder the team went down to Costa Rica for an 8 week internship experience with a major biomedical engineering company (St. Jude Medical for myself and Boston Scientific for the other program members), spent an additional week doing a “medtech design and product creation” short course with other Costa Rican college students, and another week doing “needs finding” at local hospitals, clinics, and medical communities.
The Team Project
Part of the program is a team design project. As a team we used online research, clinical visits, physician and medical professional testimonials, and our own experiences to come up with 300 needs in the medical community. Those 300 needs were then narrowed progressively to 5 for the mid semester review. After conducting market research, mostly on the overall market size in addition to existing competitor products, the team made a few pivots and refinements to come up with three needs we all felt were exciting about and we felt were realistic and represented a real gap in existing healthcare. Over the last week and continuing on to the next week and a half, the team will generate design concepts that will be prototyped and bench tested come next semester.
This project has been a challenge on a number of levels. For the most part, the difficulties I’ve had extend from never having performed this type of analysis before. In Senior Design, as part of my undergraduate degree, we were handed a project that came predefined. For GMI the team had to come up and research needs, a process that had a steep learning curve. Finding true and critical gaps in the healthcare system is not easy and it takes a trained and careful eye. Rarely do the needs jump out at you, and even needs that seem like they would be important often times fail a detailed market analysis. While I think I’ve improved my ability to find these needs significantly, it represented a barrier for me to overcome in the beginning.
The Barretos Dermatology project was a project worked on by precious masters students. As such there was some work that had already been done, such as an initial prototyping and a study done on the benefits of using a mechanical device vs. a plain camera phone. The basic premise behind the project was that nurses in Brazil are trained by the Barretos Cancer Hospital (a top Latin American cancer hospital) to identify potentially cancerous moles and lesions on the body. If there is any ambiguity or uncertainty about their diagnosis they can send pictures, usually taken from a smart phone, to the dermatology department at Barretos. The photos are often ill formatted, missing vital information, or of too poor a quality to diagnosis. There is also no security in the method of data transfer. My goal for this year was to take what the previous team had accomplished and use it to refine the mechanical design and create a secure, user-friendly web-based system of data storage and transfer.
The most challenging part of this project has simply been the time management. With so many other projects going on, carving out the time to make progress on this project (while maintaining appropriate documentation) has been difficult. Travelling to Brazil was the most helpful way to get the information I needed and helped me get started and I’ve made more significant progress now.
TruVent started as a paired project between Erica and I and has now become a team project. I won’t go too much into the logistics of this project but I will point out that we have now scheduled and set up a clinical trial, something I have never before experienced. Poor documentation and coding issues have presented significant challenge toward the forward momentum of the project. Going forward will require a higher degree of documentation and project understanding.
In conclusion… each of the GMI projects that I’ve been presented with have had challenges, some larger than others. It’s been a learning process and the one year time period has at times made it a bit overwhelming but overall, it’s been an amazing semester of experience and growth.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,