By Brian McNeill
University Public Affairs
A team of Virginia Commonwealth University students is designing an app for expectant mothers with chronic illnesses. The app will allow the expectant mothers to share health care data and communicate with their doctors about symptoms and issues of concern.
The app, CareStream, was a top 10 finalist in a recent competition with 237 entrants that was organized by OpenIDEO, an open innovation platform that issues challenges to solve difficult problems facing society. In this case, teams were asked to come up with solutions for the question, “How might we reimagine the new life experience by addressing the diverse challenges of all mothers, babies and those who care for them?”
“I read about the struggles that women with chronic illness face and was shocked to find out how common it is for doctors to give expectant mothers inconsistent treatment advice,” said Melissa Stegner, who led the project and is a senior interdisciplinary studies major with a focus on human-centered design. “Through research and interviews, my team and I found out that a treatment team could give more consistent advice to patients with chronic illness if they had the ability to communicate amongst themselves and had real-time health data from their patients.”
CareStream is designed to allow expectant mothers with chronic illnesses such as rheumatoid arthritis to gain evidence-backed recommendations and insights based on their reported symptoms, record illness symptoms, moods, and experiences with pregnancy, and send relevant data directly to their doctors.
“Several apps currently exist that allow patients to track various data and share it with their doctors but CareStream is the first to directly serve expectant women with chronic illness,” Stegner said.
The app also allows health care providers treating expectant mothers to view historical data on symptom levels and medication dosage, facilitate communication with other health care providers to find the best treatment for the mother, and enable discussions about treatment — all with the aim of leading to a healthier newborn and mother.
Stegner, who managed the project and served as the main UX/UI designer, worked with three VCU classmates — Abie Kanu, Sarah Gibson and Calvin Costic — in a course called Human Centered Design in the da Vinci Center, a collaboration of VCU’s schools of the Arts, Business, Engineering and College of Humanities and Sciences that advances innovation and entrepreneurship through interdisciplinary collaboration.
The OpenIDEO challenge was a way for the students to gain experience working together toward an innovative solution that can help people in the real world, said course instructor Aaron Forrester.
“Our students use the [human centered design] principles they learn from our da Vinci courses to come up with ideas then take those ideas forward,” he said. “To be successful in these challenges, interdisciplinary collaboration is key.”
Garret Westlake, Ph.D., executive director of the da Vinci Center, said the CareStream team’s success reflects VCU’s overarching approach to innovation.
“Faculty in the da Vinci Center are committed to delivering curriculum that is grounded in real-world application. The success of VCU students in OpenIDEO competitions is a testament to VCU’s outstanding students as well as a faculty that work tirelessly to connect student learning outcomes to real world applications,” he said. “The da Vinci Center’s Human Centered Design program is a great example of VCU’s commitment to cross-disciplinary collaboration and innovation that allows VCU students to develop real-world skills that employers are looking for in the era of the innovation economy.”
The four students met in class but worked together outside of class to develop the app. It is currently a working prototype, though it needs to be further developed before it could be fully launched.
Costic, a sophomore majoring in mechanical engineering in the School of Engineering, developed user experience journeys for different types of people who might use CareStream. Gibson, a sophomore biomedical engineering major, was involved with research and interviews related to medical background information. And Kanu, a junior information systems major in the School of Business, helped the team draw and map out the user journey and refine the concept.
“I think we put together a really innovative product. Melissa and Abie did such an amazing job with the UX design elements and Cal did awesome with the logistics of the product, and just helping out any way he could,” Gibson said. “I do not think you will find a more cross-disciplinary team than us. We did not really know each other before, but somehow we made it all work out to produce a great product.”
The team is considering entering the da Vinci Center’s pre-accelerator program, Pre-X, which aims to identify and support individuals, teams, and ideas through the early stages of idea formation and business development. As part of the program, teams of students develop their ideas and gain access to industry mentors, can qualify for funding and have the option of earning academic credit.
The experience of developing the app, Stegner said, has the team excited about working collaboratively to solve health care challenges.
“Carestream opened our eyes to the various pain points that people in the medical field face and there are many problems that still need to be solved,” she said.