When people get sick, pain makes them do the unthinkable. Their minds go into over-drive as they think of ways to eradicate or at least reduce the pain and discomfort arising from the disease.
This level of desperation often spurs innovation, leading to the creation of effective technologies that though helpful to the developer, usually remain largely unknown to the outside world— especially among other patients that would derive immense benefit from them.
This information gap prompted Dr Pedro Oliveira, Technology Professor at the Católica-Lisbon School of Business and Economics to develop a web portal known as the Patient Innovation Platform.
This digital tool allows patients from all over the world to upload and share innovative solutions that they come up with during their illness.
Thereafter, teams of medical experts assess the solutions to determine their originality, before they are published on the website.
“Since our focus is on innovation, we must ascertain that what we post online is something new to the world and can change lives,” Dr Oliveira told the Business Daily.
The more than 500 innovations available currently on the digital platform are not only impacting the lives of patients worldwide but also generating revenue for their developers.
One of the innovations on the platform is a special pillow know as “billow” that provides comfort and relief to patients after breast surgery.
Marnie Rustemeyer, the woman behind the “billow” underwent a double mastectomy in 2013 after discovering that she carried a breast cancer causing gene (BRCA gene mutation).
The mastectomy procedure was later followed by a breast reconstruction surgery.
Before the surgical wounds healed, she needed a pillow that would provide her with comfort but couldn’t find any in the market.
“I was in pain and could see the other patients suffering too. This ordeal inspired me to find a solution and led to the development of “billow.”
She added: “This is a disease that effect women globally. So I would like this product to not only help people in the United States but also in Africa.”
Ms Rustemeyer plans to achieve this by partnering with patient support groups in different countries.
The patient innovation platform is driving her closer to that goal by exposing the product to the global community audience and market.
Another breast cancer survivor, Lisa Crites, developed a shower shirt that allows patients to bath comfortably after surgeries by blocking water from reaching the sore wounds.
Prior to developing the platform, Dr Oliveira and a team of researchers first conducted a study which revealed that chronic disease patients often develop innovative solutions, treatments and medical devices to enable them cope with their condition.
“We interviewed 500 patients and found that eight per cent of them had developed such innovations that in some cases saved their own lives.”
He adds: “We knew that there were many more health innovations out there, developed silently behind closed doors as patients suffered. And we wanted them to get noticed so that they could save millions of lives globally.”
The platform is among the growing number of E-Health technologies that are promoting universal access to healthcare solutions hence helping Africa to meet the sustainable development goals (SDGs).
Such platforms make it possible for African nations like Kenya to learn about and benefit from emerging healthcare innovations.
“The patient innovation platform is free and open to everyone. We would like to encourage many Kenyans and the growing number of tech-savvy Africans to upload their innovations too and share them with the world.”
Dr Oliveira notes that the platform also serves as a mentorship hub for innovators. Once the innovations are published on the website, medical experts, patients and members of the public are able to share ideas on how the various health solutions and devices can be improved.
“We have an online forum of patients and specialists that can turn a simple idea into a big innovation that will impact many lives. Many innovators have greatly benefited from mentorship they received here,” he said.
Each year, innovators with unique solutions receive awards for their technological innovations.
Aside from patients, the platform allows care givers, families and friends of patients to share innovations that they develop in a bid to save patients lives.
“When you are taking care of a sick person, you tend to suffer too when they are in so much pain. And so you begin thinking of ways to help them. That spurs the wheels of innovation.”
For instance, the platform features an innovation by a 15-year-old boy called Kenneth Shinozuka to take care of his sick grandfather suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
After noticing that his grandfather had a dangerous habit of wandering off in the night, Shinozuka developed a pair of smart socks that would alert care givers — on their smart phones — as soon as his grandfather stepped out of bed.
Since Alzheimer patients suffer from memory loss, they can put their lives in danger if left to wander alone without the watchful eye of a care giver.
To upload innovations, users first create a log-in account then proceed with registration using their email addresses and usernames or through face book.
The platform allows searches by disease, symptom, therapy, location, device and type of activity.
Dr Oliveira said that plans are under way to make the platform accessible from other phones —not necessarily high-end smart phones — to improve uptake of the technology in low income communities.