An automated system to take patients’ vitals. A mobile app to link rural Oklahomans with transportation to doctor visits. A software program that can streamline finance management for rural hospitals. And an algorithm that can help predict if a diabetic has retinopathy by analyzing their blood.
These are among nine ideas transformed into viable solutions produced at the Rural Healthcare Innovation Weekend hosted in downtown Tulsa by Oklahoma State University Center for Health Systems Innovation on Nov. 13-15.
The event brought together more than 90 aspiring entrepreneurs, technology developers, health care providers and other professionals from a variety of disciplines for an intensive weekend of brainstorming, development and creativity focused on improving access and delivery of health care to rural areas.
“Our overarching goal is to improve access to and delivery of rural health care in Oklahoma. It is amazing that we can get more than 90 people to donate their time over a weekend to transforming health care. It really speaks to their commitment to this important issue,” said William Paiva, Ph.D., CHSI executive director. “This event is a unique way to put ideas that address this issue into motion through a collaborative hands-on innovation experience. We have come out of this with prototypes and concepts that we can test in the field in rural Oklahoma through CHSI.”
Oklahoma has one of the lowest rates of primary care physician access in the country, a problem that is particularly acute in rural areas, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health.
JC Adams, of Austin, Texas, participated in the weekend event to develop an app that would connect mental health patients in rural areas with their practitioners.
“This is an issue that is near and dear to my heart. I grew up in a rural area in east Texas and saw mental illness destroy lives and families,” he said. “I know all about the lack of access to mental health care in rural America and the stigma attached. It has been so exciting this weekend to work with other people with a passion for improving mental health.”
The app would engage patients electronically between visits with their mental health care provider, said Cindy Baugh, a nurse practitioner in psychiatry at Carl Albert Community Mental Health Center in McAlester, who joined Adams’ team.
Patients could provide information about their mental health status to practitioners on a regular basis as well as monitor vital signs and wellness activities in a user-friendly way.
“This would not replace mental health services, but would augment it with another avenue of access to mental health care and increase connectivity with patients,” she said. “With the shortage of mental health care providers, particularly in rural areas, I can see this improving access, cutting costs and intervening before situations become a crisis.”
Jana Castleberry, who works as a health planning coordinator in the Office of Primary Care and Rural Health for the Oklahoma State Department of Health and joined the mental health app team, said she believes this service would move mental health further into the realm of primary health care.
“This is important for the whole health of an individual and it is crucial for the patients we serve,” she said. “I was invited to the weekend as a mentor but I have learned so much more than I expected.”
Another project focused on developing software that would stream the vital signs of rural patients to physicians and hospitals in cities.
Dave Largent, of Atlanta, said his desire is to improve health care through the creation of software systems.
OSU management information systems student Ravi Subramanian and OSU computer sciences major Alekhya Mathukumilli worked with Largent and others on data analytics to develop the software.
“I feel as if I am doing something very productive here this weekend,” Subramanian said.
Largent said the system would benefit rural residents who are reluctant to travel lengthy distances for a routine checkup with a doctor or who may be unable to afford such trips.
“Our world view on the application of this system has been shaped and reshaped a couple of times over the course of this innovation weekend,” Largent said. “Our idea is that we can send this equipment home with patients so that physicians can collect vital signs to determine if treatment is necessary. Because of this weekend, I am more enthusiastic than before about providing new ways to help rural Americans be healthier.”
To learn more about the OSU Center for Health Systems Innovation, visit the organization’s website at http://chsi.okstate.edu/.