7 Ways Makers Are Increasing the Care in Health Care

Biohacking Maker News Science

What if hospitals had in-house makerspaces so that doctors and nurses could modify off-the-shelf medical supplies for increased patient comfort? That would be amazing. What happens when makers collaborate with disabled people to design accessible, low-cost medical devices? Innovation. Increasingly, makers are lending their skill sets toward amping up the care in health care. For instance, MakerHealth is not only leading the charge in helping to create makerspaces in hospitals, but they’re also building a powerful network of health care providers sharing how-tos. And with maker-made innovations like the mouth-controlled input device that enables people with little or no hand movement to operate a touchscreen device, the future of health care is looking brighter every day. Read on to learn more about seven powerful ways makers are helping people live fuller lives. Then come on out to the 12th annual Maker Faire Bay Area, May 19–21, to meet these makers and get inspired.

Makers Making Change

B.C. Canada’s Makers Making Change connects makers to people with disabilities who need assistive technologies. Together they co-create access solutions. Makers Making Change offers a repository of open-source assistive technologies, and in January of this year, they held a 48-hour Access Makeathon, where each person with a disability was linked up with a team of makers who built an open-source solution that directly addressed a need of the person they were paired with. Makers got the chance to apply their skills to address a real-world and each disabled person left the event with a working prototype that improved their quality of life. One of their featured projects is called LipSync, a mouth-controlled input device that enables people with little or no hand movement to operate a touchscreen device.

LipSync is open source, affordable, 3D-printable, Arduino-based, Bluetooth-enabled, and wheelchair-mountable. It can be built in a weekend, employs easy-to-source hardware, and costs around $300 instead of $1,500 (for the off-the-shelf equivalent).

From their site:

The Lipsync is a mouth-operated joystick that allows a person to control a computer cursor with a minimum of head and neck movement. All the electronics are housed in the ‘head’ of the device so there are no additional control boxes, making the LipSync a good candidate for portable, wheelchair-mounted applications. The mouthpiece is attached to a precision miniature joystick sensor that requires only a very slight pressure on the shaft in order to move a cursor on the screen. The mouthpiece is hollow and allows a person to perform left and right mouse button clicks by alternatively puffing or sipping into the tube.

An estimated 1,000,000 people in Canada and the United States have limited or no use of their arms, meaning they are unable to use touchscreen devices that could provide access to helpful apps and services. While solutions exist for desktop computers, they can cost up to $3,000 and do not work well on mobile devices.

On Saturday, May 20, Makers Making Change cofounder Chad Leaman will be speaking in Expo Hall on the Make: Live Stage at 4:15 p.m.

Here’s Leaman demonstrating how LipSync works:


Born out of MIT’s Little Devices Lab in 2008, MakerHealth originally began as part of an approach to reinvent the way MIT students were taught medical device design. The founders observed health care professionals around the globe creating their own modified solutions, and they recognized the potential positive impact of training these folks on the front line to go from from providers to prototypers. After all, these are the people who are most in touch with the direct needs of patients, many of whom are not served by off-the-shelf generic solutions. In a nutshell, Maker Health is out to revolutionize health care. They put it best, in their description that makes you want to jump up and say, “Let’s do this!”:

We believe everyone can be a medical maker. In a world where health care technology is increasingly black boxed and unaffordable, we found a stealth community of innovators working around the clock to make health better, by making their own devices to make us better. These are the health makers, the tinkerers and the explorers that inspire our team to create instruments, to rewrite medical education, and to build the invention infrastructure in hospitals around the world. Whether it’s a prototyping kit part of tomorrow’s doctor’s bag, or a MakerHealth Space laboratory dreaming up a prototype prescription, our global team is passionate about democratizing your ability to create and invent the things you can hold in your hand. These are the things that heal. And the things that our team is making sure you can make. We’re MakerHealth and you are a health maker.

Among their offerings is helping to start makerspaces in hospitals. The very first one of its kind is at the University of Texas Medical Branch hospital. They also offer health technology online courses and a repository of how-tos. The tools and frameworks in the MakerHealth program are informed by the 2013 MakerNurse study that “worked with frontline nursing staff to quantify patterns of making, new ideas, and gaps in the current system to support frontline innovators.”

More about MakerNurse:

MakerNurse honors the inventive spirit of nurses across America and seeks to bring nurse making to the forefront of health care. Nurses have been solving issues of patient care for more than 100 years, customizing medical equipment and making new devices that ensure patient comfort and safety. Yet too often nurse-made solutions do not spread beyond the unit where they were created, or worse, are never built, remaining just a sketch on the back of a napkin.

MakerNurse provides tools and resources to enhance resourcefulness and innovation among nurses, and partners with health care institutions to nurture nurses’ creativity and ingenuity. With the right support, nurses can take their ideas and make them into something they can hold in their hands. It’s this everyday making that’s leading to better ways of caring for patients, not just the grandiose ideas that are incubated over decades.

MakerNurse, with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, was launched in September 2013 with the goal of examining nurse innovation in U.S. hospitals and identifying tools and resources that could help more nurses bring their ideas to fruition and lead improvements in patient care. Our solutions, informed by this research, are being adopted by institutions across the country.

MakerNurse is a community of inventive nurses who are creating solutions to improve patient care every day. At MakerHealth, we provide the tools, platforms and trainings to help these MakerNurses make the next generation of health technology.

Watch MakerHealth/MakerNurse co-founder Anna Young’s TEDMed Talk for more insight:

On Sunday, May 21, MakerHealth/MakerNurse co-founder José Gómez-Márquez will be speaking in the Midway Meeting Pavilion Center Stage at 1:00 p.m.

Here he is explaining why medical devices should be more like bicycles (easily understood mechanisms and design that allows for modification):

NeuroBuds Brain Wave Mapping

Chosen as one of the top 10 projects in Intel’s Innovate for Digital India Challenge 2.0, NeuroBuds is a brain-wave-mapping smart earphone that tracks users’ brain activity to understand their mental state, analyze their stress level, and help them calm down. In their own words:

The idea was based on the principle that sharp changes occurred in the brain when a user panicked, and through these signals, the app, built alongside the smart-sensor-based earphones, delivered the required output.

In a time when the working population suffers from stress-related issues and sleeping disorders due to a fast-paced lifestyle, NeuroBuds can be of great help. The app maps the stress level of the user and suggests remedial measures to calm down.

With the penetration of advanced telecommunication networks and smartphones in rural villages, a larger part of healthcare service can be eased up with the aid of such smarter technologies that can provide better treatment.

By integrating crucial health monitoring sensors into an everyday-use device with the help of an earphone, the need for special external add-on hardware can be highly reduced. The sensor data can also be used to detect brain-related issues like epilepsy early and can help predict them for caution.

The NeuroBuds booth, run by team member Nitin Vasanth, will be in Zone 2 of Expo Hall.

Diabetic Wound Detector

Created by a team of female engineers from Kuwait University comprised of Esraa Ezzat Alaryan, Nourah Rashed Alkhouder, Shaikha Mohammed Alobadly, and Anwar Athab Alshammeri, the Diabetic Wound Detector design consists of two stages of detection, where the first stage is an adjustable band that can be worn on any limb and will alert the patient to the existence of a wound using the near-infrared radiation method. The second stage detects the location and the depth of the wound using a microscopic camera in a box that takes a snapshot. The wound is then detected using image-recognition software (via Visual Basic) installed on the PC. Diabetes slows the healing process of any wound and neglecting wounds can be detrimental. This project aims to help.

The Diabetic Wound Detector booth will be in Zone 2 of Expo Hall.

SpiroEdge 3D-Printed Spirometer

Founded by 15-year-old maker Hannah Edge, SpiroEdge is a low-cost, portable, compact, 3D-printed, Bluetooth-enabled spirometer (an instrument for measuring the air capacity of the lungs). Edge, herself an asthmatic, developed the original prototype for a local engineering fair, unsatisfied with the inefficiency of hospital spirometers. She wanted to build a device that would not only be easy to use but would ease interfacing between patient and physician. The current version is much more advanced that her original prototype.

From the site:

SpiroEdge’s goal is to improve asthmatic patients’ lifestyles by allowing them to predict and prevent asthmatic episodes before they occur. The mobile interface allows for an on-the-go, easy-to-use platform for maintaining healthy lung function.

SpiroEdge utilizes a variety of technology to provide accurate, quick results. Air pressure sensors precisely measure lung capacity, while allowing for real-time recording via Android application. An oximeter is also incorporated into the spirometer’s function — a unique integration of two medical tools, right at your fingertips.

Unlike traditional spirometery testing, Spiroedge’s real-time recording system allows the user to obtain their results with only an inhale and an exhale. Each Spiroedge device has its own personal Bluetooth code to ensure safe connection. All of the results can be sent to a physician via HIPAA-complaint secured Cloud storage.

The SpiroEdge booth will be in Zone 2 of Expo Hall at Maker Faire Bay Area.

Moveable Car Seat

Recognized as an IGNITE Teenovator by India’s National Innovation Foundation for this prototype, Ganpat University student Khushkumar Patel’s creation aims to provide a vehicle seat that can slide and rotate, making it easier for a passenger or driver with disabilities to get in and out of the car. The seat can move left and right, forward and back, up and down, and can rotate 360°. To boot, it’s designed to be simple, stable, easy to maneuver, reliable, and cost-effective. Patel also added a remote control system.

Patel’s booth will be in Zone 2 of Expo Hall at Maker Faire Bay Area.

Modified Game Controllers

In his spare time, Make’s own senior editor Caleb Kraft modifies game controllers for people with disabilities, mostly using just a soldering iron, basic materials, and a 3D printer. His endeavor, called The Controller Project, aims to make the joy of gaming accessible to all.

Here’s a video where he walks through the three main types of mods he performs:

Kraft has also published one of his mods, “Modifying an Xbox One Controller Thumbsticks for Muscular Dystrophy,” online as a full how-to. And here is a different one of his Xbox One controller custom mods, for a gamer who can’t click the thumbstick clickers or get to the shoulder pads and triggers:

Kraft will be at the Faire all weekend and will be speaking about his mods in Zone 4, the West Green at the Make: Show & Tell on Saturday at 11:00 a.m.

All the information you need to attend Maker Faire Bay Area and meet these inspiring makers is on the site.

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I'm a word nerd who loves to geek out on how emerging technology affects the lexicon. I was an editor on the first 40 volumes of MAKE, and I love shining light on the incredible makers in our community. In particular, covering art is my passion — after all, art is the first thing most of us ever made. When not fawning over perfect word choices, I can be found on the nearest mountain, looking for untouched powder fields and ideal alpine lakes.

Contact me at snowgoli@gmail.com or via @snowgoli.

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