Mark Smith, MD, 27 June 2016
One of my favorite toys growing up was an Erector Set. For millennial readers out there, an Erector Set is a construction toy that contains a lot of flat metal struts with regularly spaced holes, and nuts and bolts to tie them together. They had motors, pulleys, and gears that allowed you to build a model, take it apart, and build something new – over and over again. I didn’t know then that in 1949, two physicians at Yale used an erector set to build a prototype of an artificial heart.
Fast forward to today. Our tools for individuals to build and tinker with have evolved on a large scale. We now have the technology, design tools, making tools, and entrepreneurial spirit to enable those that are closest to healthcare challenges to channel their spirit of invention, creativity, and natural-problem solving skills to create usable solutions that matter to them.
Enter the Maker Movement. A new making infrastructure is springing up around us. The MakerNurse project has given nurses the tools and space needed to translate ideas into prototypes and prototypes into solutions. The MakerHealth Space at the John Sealey Hospital at The University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston is equipped with adhesives, fasteners, textiles, electronics (sensors and micro-controllers), and a range of tools (pliers, sewing needles, 3D printers, laser cutters, vacuum formers, sterilizer, and tabletop milling machines). There are workspaces specialized for specific medical challenges, such as fluid control or assistive technology.
The nurse manager in their Blocker Burn Unit developed a three-headed shower head using PVC pipes and 3-D printed components, eliminating the need to hold a shower head for hours at a time whenever chemical-burn patients entered the ER. Makers are encouraged to record “how-to’s” so that others can recreate and build on others’ solutions.
Collaboration reaches beyond the four walls of a maker space through initiatives such as the National Institute of Heath’s 3D Print Exchange, which allows users to access and share biomedical 3D-printable files and learning tools.
It is not just front-line workers who are solving problems. It is also patients, who best understand their pain points and are therefore uniquely positioned to make solutions. A 14-year-old cystic fibrosis patient designed a device to dry her nebulizer with some wooden sticks, plastic rings made with a 3D printer, and an electric fan.
With the Maker Movement penetrating health, the concept of “personalized medicine” can be interpreted in a new dimension: Personalized medicine includes medicine made by a person for a person. It is an individual using physical tools to cut, mold, and shape solutions to challenges that they understand intimately from personal experience.
On Thursday, June 23, individuals and organizations committed to creating better health through hardware, medical, and assistive devices exhibited at Making Health, an interactive showcase at the Leavey Center at Georgetown University.
The mission of the MedStar Institute for Innovation, the organization that I have the privilege of leading, is to catalyze innovation that advances health. I can think of no better way of doing that than to support and encourage the Inner Maker in all of us.