Medical City (Orlando, Florida) was the recent epicenter of a unique forgathering of talents from two of the area's most emerging industries: healthcare and interactive arts and sciences. The reported first-of-its-kind event in the United States, held at the GuideWell Innovation Center, brought together 200 patients, physicians, PhDs, RNs, and healthcare executives with programmers, graphic and sound designers, and other creatives and technologists. Their mission was to prove that fresh perspectives, talent, and technologies such as augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) can spark a flame of relevant, exciting new solutions for health and medicine.
Created by the organizers of two local community meetup groups known as Health Innovators and Indienomicon, the team's programming appeared far from simple. To begin, the group of mostly strangers listened to thirty, 90-second concept pitches then quickly disbanded to meet with pitch leaders and vote on their favorites. Once the top ideas were announced, attendees scurried to formulate teams on the fly, and then got straight to work. Their next objective - create and execute a work plan to build interactive prototypes that could potentially disrupt the way patients, caregivers, and clinicians experience and engage in healthcare.
They had less than 48 hours to complete the mission.
Getting to this point was a challenge of its own. Despite both being highly engaged in curating the local tech scene, the two group's leaders, Kelli Murray and Kunal Patel were total strangers prior to the idea being posed.
"My hunch was that converging these very different groups of talent would, at a minimum, be met with skepticism; particularly by professionals in health and life sciences who tend to be apprehensive and by the book. I can say that because after 20 years in healthcare, I was dubious to the initial concept. Medicine's reputation is serious business, not fun and games. But, after some research, I began to quickly realize that game design is a key to unlocking barriers for engagement, compliance, and experience. Maybe this is where the (healthcare) industry as a whole has failed to notice a tremendous opportunity," said Murray, one of the region's preeminent voices in the healthcare entrepreneur community and co-founder of Health Innovators.
The first step was finding the right mix of perspectives for the pre-event, affectionately known as the MeGa Night of Talks & Laughs. Adding an element of humor and lightheartedness was of critical value because the multi-night event required the right tone. This meant finding local healthcare leaders who not only had a unique lens for healthcare but also understood interactive technologies like simulation, video games, and virtual and augmented reality.
To the delight of a standing room only crowd, Haru Okua, MD, who is co-founder of SIMWARS, a board member of the Society for Simulation in Healthcare, and National Medical Director of SimLEARN at VHA, revealed that he is also, in fact, a gamer. Victoria Loerzel, RN, PhD, at UCF's School of Nursing and recipient of a grant used to fund a serious game to control nausea and vomiting for seniors undergoing chemo, is also a long-standing game enthusiast, as is Jonathan Truong, CEO of Verapy, a self-described non-compliant physical therapy patient, who now creates virtual reality exercise games for a living. To top it off, several local startups showcased their innovations while a comedian delivered a variety of jokes aimed directly at both the medical and gaming industries.
Finding the right partners - those who see the possibilities and understand the immense talent based here in Central Florida - was also imperative. According to co-organizer and ideator, Kunal Patel of Indienomicon, "The concepts of gamification to drive better engagement as well as gaming technologies like AR/VR/Apps are going to be increasingly prevalent in every industry, including healthcare. We knew the speed of prototyping and innovation produced and iterated over MeGa Health Jam would be faster than most in healthcare would be used to, and that was exciting."
Almost from day one, local universities including Full Sail, FIEA, Nova, and Orange Technical College were on board as sponsors. Dr. Deborah Beidel, Director of UCF RESTORES, also seized the opportunity to apply advanced technologies such as virtual reality, which her organization already uses as a form of therapy to help improve the lives of combat soldiers suffering from PTSD. The world-famous EA Sports, creator of Madden NFL also supported the effort along with local simulation company ECS, and gaming technology companies Virtual Hammer, and CG Solutions, which has a game about fighting viruses in the human body.
From a provider perspective, the inaugural advisor pool was impressive. Despite the low support by hospital systems, individuals from these organizations stepped right up. Physicians from Orlando Health, Nemours, Harvard, and Stanford along with MD entrepreneurs from KinderDoc and Symplast assisted and were adorned with red monogrammed stethoscopes to denote them as advisors. (To see the full list of advisors, go to www.megahealthjam.com.)
One hospital system, however, Florida Hospital, stepped beyond their traditional comfort zone to not only help offset some of the costs of the endeavor, but also had two of their top talents in innovation participate. Ashley Simmons, Director of Design Integration served as a health advisor and Richard Paul, of the Florida Hospital Innovation Lab provided a competitive, yet fun team-building improv activity to kick off the weekend; something that will be remembered by all.
Where else would you find a physician from Orlando Health and another from Harvard competing in a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors? Only here, folks.
Of the 30 pitches, 17 concepts moved forward to form official teams. Concepts were surprisingly diverse and reached a cross range of interests including social responsibility to prevent student harm, human trafficking, and opioid addiction to anxiety, ADHD, emergency room throughput, meditation, radiology imaging, wound management, and physical therapy. Each prototype had a unique goal in mind to help users experience the psychological motivators that activated them through participation.
"These new concepts took a traditional, sterile industry and amplified it by leveraging rewards, art, and sound in a creative, immersive and interactive human experience," said Murray.
For many health professionals, even those who understand the power of things like simulation and robotics, simply using the word "game or gamify" elicits a stigmatic response of skepticism. The reality is that now is the time to really start looking beyond traditional means of engagement. Everyone involved in health and medicine should get ready to embrace interactive technologies - AR/VR/Simulation and apps are here to stay and they are the future. It's how brands will discover new connections with their consumers to educate and simultaneously delight them in some way.
"That's why I was so excited for MeGa Health Jam," said Nina Talley of MedSpeaks, adding, "it was designed to bring down the walls between the industries in a way that went beyond networking. We were seeing real time collaboration between high-level minds in healthcare and an emerging generation of technologists, and our clinicians were absolutely blown away by what was able to be accomplished in such a short amount of time."
So far, the results are very promising. At least 7 commercialization meetings, 2 job offers, and a grant application are in the works!
"This event was a demonstration of what innovation in the healthcare space truly is. Viewing healthcare problems through the lens of the gaming community was an opportunity to see solutions that the traditional "answer finders" never would have found," said Christine Certain, Director of Clinical Operations and Innovations for The Children's Home Society of Florida.
The inaugural event was so successful that plans for MeGa Health Jam 2019 are underway.
Featured Innovators and Winners of the MeGa Health Jam
1st Place: Boo Boo Snap
No one likes to get shots, cuts, or Boo Boos. What if there was a way to be rewarded for getting a Boo Boo? That's what the duo of Christine Wright and James Gaiser, graduate students of FIEA (Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy) set out to create.
When children get a shot or injury they often turn to a Band-Aid for comfort. What if instead of just a colorful flat image, it was an animated 3D image that spoke to the child? What if a child could use their tablet to see an epic germ battle play out over their scraped knee or Dora the Explorer finding a clue and teaching them Spanish while their vaccination Boo Boo heals? Their augmented reality (AR) innovation caught the eye of Fox News which recently covered the development. As winners, the creators received $10,000 in business services ranging from free office space at Orlando Game Space, commercialization services from MedSpeaks, legal business setup by Mia Mota, Esq., and booth space at this year's OrlandoIX and Ontronicon 2019.
It's a forward-thinking concept for something as mundane as bandages, which is why it placed first among a panel of judges ranging from Dr. Shayan Vyas, a Pediatric Medical Director, Matt McBride, a local entrepreneur of a telemed platform called Mend, and Nina Talley, a Millenial with a keen eye for usability.
Since winning on April 15th, Boo Boo Snap has continued to build upon the platform by adding advanced features and proprietary elements that turn this into a commercially viable company.
2nd Place: Zen Bloom - An interactive meditation "game" that drives the building and blooming of your garden to relax you while extending the range of motion of your limbs using therapeutic exercises.
3rd Place: bARk - Distraction therapy and anxiety reducing app for children and adults to play with an augmented reality based dog named ARchie.
Audience Favorite: Fantastic Hands and Where to Catch Them - Using chiropractor-approved hand gestures, the patient is immersed in occupational therapy game play that encourages the extension of all five fingers and the hand/wrist in which the player can only progress with proper form.