When BWH general surgery resident Ann DeBord Smith, MD, MPH, and Dan McDuff, PhD, were introduced through an acquaintance whom Smith had met at a BWH Hackathon, little did they know that a multiyear collaboration had been born. The two have developed an easy-to-use, quick, low-cost technology to screen for and diagnose peripheral artery disease. Their project was selected from a pool of more than 53 applications to compete for the grand prize in the first-ever Partners Connected Health Innovation Challenge (CHIC).
After meeting McDuff, Smith approached her mentor, Louis Nguyen, MD, MBA, MPH, a vascular surgeon at BWH, who was supportive of her initial idea and encouraged her to find funding to pursue it. Over the past year and a half, Smith and McDuff have worked tirelessly to refine their technology to allow physicians to predict the severity of peripheral artery disease (PAD). Patients who are older and/or have diabetes are at a higher risk of PAD, and worst-case scenarios for these patients if they do not receive timely medical attention include amputation of affected limbs, heart attack, stroke and even death.
“One of the problems we were seeing was that patients were getting lost in the system,” explained Smith, who returned to her general surgery residency in July 2015 after completing a fellowship at the Center for Surgery and Public Health (CSPH). “Patients experiencing pain in their limbs often see a primary care physician first, and it’s usually unclear to the PCP whether these patients should be referred to Neurology, Orthopaedics, Vascular or some other specialty. One of our goals with this technology is to help PCPs triage their patients more effectively, which would result in cost savings for the hospital and better outcomes for patients.”
Prior to returning to clinical rotations, Smith recruited Rebecca Scully, MD, a BWH resident and current fellow at the Center for Surgery and Public Health, to participate in the project. “I came to CSPH because I was interested in surgical outcomes/health services research,” Scully said. “I had no idea that I’d end up doing app development, but the entire process has been truly eye-opening and rewarding.”
If their project sounds familiar, it’s because it was chosen as a winner of the 2015 BWH Health & Technology Innovation Fund Pitch Session, earning the group a $50,000 grant. Since then, Smith, Scully and other collaborators have accessed a variety of resources, including the Brigham Innovation Hub, which is where they heard about CHIC and decided to apply.
Partners HealthCare launched CHIC this year to identify novel, technology-enabled solutions from Partners’ employees and clinical faculty, and to improve the delivery of preventive care and chronic disease management for patients. Submissions were accepted from Partners HealthCare-affiliated individuals or teams with at least one Partners HealthCare-affiliated member. Eligible ideas could include a device, mobile app or other technology-enabled approach to improve care delivery. Partners received submissions from 53 teams representing more than 200 individuals throughout the Partners network.
From that large applicant pool, the BWH team, which included Nguyen, Scully, Smith and McDuff, was selected as one of two finalist teams and worked for eight weeks with specialists who provided supportive services (valued at $40,000) in user-centered design, technology development and protocol design. Together, they focused on building the business case for their technology by interviewing end-users, refining their idea, and finally preparing a presentation. Then, both teams were invited to pitch their projects to Trung Do, executive director of Business Development at Partners HealthCare, and Gregg Meyer, MD, chief clinical officer at Partners HealthCare.
The judges determined which project was most innovative and aligned with Partners’ mission to reduce costs, improve clinical outcomes and increase efficiencies in care delivery. The BWH team was awarded Runner-Up with a prize of additional supportive services. The grand prize of $150,000 in supportive services (including user-centered design, full technology development and protocol design to implement a pilot study) was awarded to another team for their app to coordinate care around pain assessment and management for patients in palliative care settings.
“Our project is basically a medical device that’s available on your phone, so the development process requires significant time and effort,” said Nguyen, who served as the primary presenter for the team at the CHIC event. “We’re honored to have been chosen to compete in this event and grateful for the opportunity to work with members from Partners Connected Health on some design aspects of the project.”
“This is just the beginning,” added Scully. “There is so much power in smartphones that we haven’t learned how to leverage yet.”
The winning team will share updates about their project during a panel presentation at the 2016 Partners Connected Health Symposium in Boston on Friday, Oct. 21.