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Turning Healthcare Workers Into Hackers

A company born out of MIT's Little Devices Lab is helping doctors and nurses hack medical devices to make existing technologies better fit their needs.

Physician Chris Zahner at the University of Texas Medical Branch designing sensor systems in the MakerHealth Space.

MIT/Andrew Maxwell-Parish

Doctors and nurses in North and South America are learning new ways to use off-the-shelf materials to hack into medical equipment and forge new devices that can improve patient care. MakerHealth, a company that provides training and resources to healthcare providers, is now helping nurses and doctors hack medical devices to create new tools and devices that can better serve the needs of their patients.

The company, born out of MIT’s Little Devices Lab,  specializes in turning healthcare workers into makers and designers, by offering the tools and insights necessary to help clinicians and healthcare workers innovate wherever they are, with whatever tools they have at their disposal. Using everyday materials, MakerHealth has helped create a bevy of different devices, from pipe systems to irrigate wounds for burn victims, to nexpensive feeding-tube holders from off-the-shelf materials.

In addition to training programs, the company also offers toolkits — a collection of materials and tools that can be used to hack hospital equipment — to help nurses and doctors in the field create and adapt existing technologies to fit their needs. The company even offers on-site makerspaces — a location where doctors and nurses can collaborate with each other, while also providing access to tools and training that can enable them to design, create, and innovate.

As medical technologies continue to advance, the design process has begun to adapt as well. Medical device designers are beginning to prioritize product usability so that devices can be used with more ease and simplicity. MakerHealth believes that anyone can be a device maker, and that healthcare workers are often the ones who know best what devices need to improve patient care.

In the last few years, MakerHealth clinicians have revolutionized many different technologies to create devices that are simpler, more effective, and less expensive. They’ve modified an image pathology device, turning a $100,000 machine into a $100 device using a modified Raspberry Pi technology. They’ve also designed a modified CPAP mask for infants that more safely secures to the infant by stringing the mask to a hat made from a compression sock.

Some of the company’s latest innovations are in wound and critical care units. Just recently clinicians designed a system of PVC pipes with holes in them that can be installed over a burn unit tub to treat burn victims with running water. They’ve also created a wound vacuum kit that uses a modular alarm to alert care teams when suction is lost, and they’ve even designed a 3-D printed simulation model that can help nurses practice wound treatment using models instead of live patients.

As the company moves forward, they’re preparing to launch a “Makerspace in the Cloud” license that will be available to hospitals, as well as medical and nursing schools. The platform will serve to guide clinicians through the process of designing and testing new devices, while also suggesting tools, materials, and designs plans along the way. The platform will also guide users through efficacy tests, evidence gathering, and approval processes for their device to ensure the highest level of quality for new innovations.

MakerHealth believes that through both physical and digital makerspace platforms, the company can encourage clinicians to act on new ideas and begin to take part in the process of device design and innovation. The way they see it, if you put the tools of design into the hands of the very people who use these devices on a daily basis, you just might end up with some of the best new devices on the market.

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