Polsky Internship Program Forms Student Teams to Innovate New Medical Solutions
When individuals of different backgrounds, training, or perspectives come together to achieve a common goal, the potential for innovation and originality is at its greatest. And the inaugural Biodesign Internship Program at the University of Chicago was the perfect iteration of this kind of potential reaching fulfillment.
Culminating in a “Demo Day” in May, the Biodesign Internship Program was designed to provide University of Chicago graduate students the unique opportunity to participate in a cross-disciplinary innovation experience. Assigned the task of solving complex healthcare problems, participating students learned competitive and marketable skills while collaborating to affect real change in the healthcare industry.
Sponsored by Deerfield, Illinois-based leading health care company Baxter, the Biodesign Internship Program was created with the intention of not only educating and training future health technology innovators, but also putting the students’ ideas and research to work. The Biodesign Innovation Process brings together people from disparate disciplines to identify, invent and implement an invention and plan for execution within the health technology spectrum.
Additionally, the Biodesign Internship Program successfully assisted in fostering a unique partnership between various schools within the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). Applicants from each school were divided up into two different teams, each consisting of at least one MBA student from Chicago Booth, one medical student from the Pritzker School of Medicine, and two biomedical engineering masters students from UIUC.
One team took on the project of innovating in the medication delivery space, specifically looking for ways they could solve a problem related to administering push medications which are delivered into a patient’s vein via a previously inserted intravenous (IV) catheter. And the other was assigned to critical care, tasked with assessing and innovating the process of continuous renal replacement therapy (CRRT) for patients with acute kidney injury in the ICU setting.
Current MBA student Candace Tkac, a member of the medication delivery team, explained how her team’s diverse set of backgrounds and expertise led to a surprising degree of efficiency and collaboration. “The most valuable part [of the internship] was working cross-functionally across Booth, Pritzker, and UIUC [Grainger] Engineering,” Tkac said. “Everyone brought a very different perspective to the work.”
Similarly, critical care team member and UChicago Pritzker medical student Cody Lee said that the most valuable part of the entire experience for him was meeting and working with individuals from different disciplines all at once. “Seeing how different people’s strengths can come together to build a team that wouldn’t have been able to accomplish all that we did if we hadn’t come together was really special,” Lee said. “Getting the opportunity to forge new relationships and learn how to work together to achieve a very specific goal was hugely rewarding. “
Throughout the 16-week program, each intern had the opportunity to shadow UChicago hospital professionals, and witness their biggest pain points first hand. Each team interviewed and surveyed physicians, nurses, and other hospital staff in order to fully understand the needs in their assigned area of focus which is the bedrock of the Biodesign process.
For Tkac, getting an inside look at hospital operations was particularly exciting. “The coolest part of the program for me was getting to tour the hospital, go into patient rooms, and interview the nurses. It was really fun to talk to them and get their honest feedback. We did an anonymous survey, which received some especially honest feedback, which was incredibly useful to our project.”
After conducting their hospital visits and interviews, the medication delivery interns discovered that administering push medications are associated with an increase in patient risks and operational inefficiencies. Tkac explained, “IV push medications are used widely throughout the hospital, but based on our research, there’s a whole host of errors that come along with that. As a result, IV push medications have 5x the error rate of ready-to-administer medications given by an IV pump.”
Accordingly, Tkac and her team developed a prototype solution designed to reduce the risk of IV pushed medications.
As for the critical care team, they discovered that administering CRRT required repeated blood tests throughout each day of care in order to tailor the treatment to each patient, and that these tests were costly, and took significant time to process in the lab.
The Biodesign interns’ solution was to create a handheld blood analyzer that could immediately detect a patient’s basic metabolic panel with calcium in order to inform the decisions necessary to tailor each patient’s therapy right there in the room.
“Currently, every time the nurses are drawing blood, they have to send it to the lab, and that takes time and money,” said Lee. “But, if you’re able to get a portable and quick blood analyzing machine, it would be incredibly valuable – enabling nurses and physicians to care for CRRT patients much more efficiently.”
Ultimately, both teams of interns presented their structural prototype solutions to Baxter during last month’s Demo Day, with the hopes that they could eventually be turned into real-world working solutions. But regardless of where their innovative work ends up, both teams agreed that the teachings and research they gathered using a Biodesign type process was the most valuable result of the entire process.
“Something that I learned that surprised me was the number of iterations that go into creating any sort of final product,” said Lee. “After participating in this program, I would be hard pressed to believe that there are any really good products in the medical space that haven’t gone through several prototype phases. Until now, I always just thought of that end-game piece, but now I realize that the journey before the final product is where the real success is built.”