WASHINGTON – It’s a problem that has long plagued many people who have been hospitalized: How do you keep track of all of those complicated discharge instructions to make sure that you don’t end up back in the hospital yet again?
Well, now there’s an app for that.
And its creation by a group of University at Buffalo graduate students won one of them a place at the table Thursday as a House subcommittee held a hearing on mobile medical apps and how they can change the future of medicine.
The students’ Discharge Roadmap isn’t quite ready for download just yet, but it’s already attracting plenty of attention – including a second-place award, worth $25,000, from GE Healthcare and Ochsner Health System, which sponsored a contest this year for apps that aim to improve patient experiences in hospitals nationwide.
And the attention reached its peak Thursday as Sabrina N. Casucci, a Ph.D. candidate at the university, testified before the House Small Business Subcommittee on Health and Technology on behalf of the group that has engineering the app.
“Our group of young entrepreneurs are translating our individual health care and technology-related research into a mobile solution that will make hospital discharge planning a more effective and efficient process,” Casucci told the subcommittee.
The goal of the Discharge Roadmap is to connect patients, family members and doctors to make sure, in real time, that everyone is on the same page – and to make sure the patient does what’s needed to avoid a relapse.
“We seek to make a meaningful contribution to reducing readmission rates by providing patients, their families and hospital-based clinicians with a clear communications channel,” Casucci told the committee.
Casucci’s personal experiences helped push her and her colleagues toward devising the app. Her mother is serving as a caregiver for several elderly relatives and has found it to be a struggle to meet their post-discharge care needs through phone calls with medical providers.
Figuring there must be a better way, she and her team entered GE Healthcare’s Health Quest competition.
While the Discharge Roadmap was one of the top entrants, it’s still a ways away from landing on your iPhone. The students are still working out technical issues with the app and still seeking funding for its launch.
“As a startup organization, we know there is a long and difficult journey ahead of us,” she said.
The chairman of the subcommittee, Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, said his committee is looking for ways to make that journey easier for app developers.
“To bring these products to the public, small businesses must navigate a complex web of challenges: product financing, marketing, taxes and regulations,” Collins said. “We are eager to learn more about these innovations, as well as the challenges that small businesses are encountering.”
Other entrepreneurs at the hearing demonstrated an app that keeps track of all a patient’s medical records, as well as one aimed at children with asthma that would warn them away from health dangers and reward them when they stick with their medical program.
The UB group – including students Dapeng Cao, Theresa K. Guarrera, David LaVergne, Nicolette McGeorge, Judith Tiferes-Wang and Yuan Zhou – ended up testifying at Collins’ invitation after the subcommittee’s staff found their project on the Internet.
Accompanying the students was Li Lin, Ph.D., a professor in the department of industrial and systems engineering at UB.
“It’s very exciting” to see his students showing their work at a congressional hearing, the professor said. “I’m very proud of them.”