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The hospital of the future

Emergency rooms are frequently understaffed and overworked. Sometimes, waiting patients with quietly-worsening symptoms fall through the cracks. This medical student is seeking to solve that.

On this episode of Boldly, Charles Choi speaks to his Joule Innovation Council mentor, Dr. Tatiana Rac. Their conversation covers Choi’s journey as co-created VitalEyes. The goal with this tool is to reduce preventable deaths that occur in emergency waiting rooms by monitoring patient vital signs from the moment they go through triage.

Their inspiration for the tool was patients who are unable to express themselves clearly in the triage and waiting stages. Such miscommunications can result in accidentally overlooked patients left in the waiting area longer than their condition warrants. VitalEyes is what Choi and his Hatching Health team created to meet that need and save lives.

Listen to learn how this technology is shaping the hospital of the future.

tweetable: “The problem we want to tackle is reducing preventable deaths in the waiting room of the emergency department.”


Key takeaways

How and why was VitalEyes created?

  • Before creating VitalEyes, Choi worked on a mobile app that tracked the progression of Parkinson’s disease over time.
  • He and his Hatching Health Hackathon group developed a concept and prototype for VitalEyes over the weekend-long event.
  • After winning an award for their project, they were encouraged to continue working on it.
  • Receiving a Joule Innovation grant helped them launch their idea.
  • Choi, who was a second-year medical student then, found hackathons to be a great fit. It allowed him to use his medical knowledge to create and innovate.

tweetable: “We were motivated by the fact that we can really save people’s lives.”

What problem does VitalEyes help solve?

  • VitalEyes aims to reduce preventable deaths that occur in the ER waiting room.
  • Although the patients are already in a hospital, they are in a limbo-state in terms of care.
  • Hospital staff do not closely monitor waiting patients’ vital signs throughout the process. As a result, they can miss the severity of a patient’s symptoms.
  • This is more common with people who struggle to express themselves clearly. Such difficulties can result from a language barrier or unconsciousness mistaken as sleeping.
  • If someone can monitor the patient’s vital signs, they can alert a health care professional should anything change.

tweetable: “When you’re in the waiting area of the ER…you’re kind of in a limbo space.”

What is Frequency Modulated Continuous Wave (FMCW) radar?

  • One of the biggest obstacles Choi’s team encountered was trying to determine the best way to monitor many people at once.
  • FMCW radar is one of the technologies they came across to help them meet this goal.
  • They are still experimenting with FMCW radar as a possible solution.


How can health care innovations benefit from clinical expertise?

  • In addition to students and engineers, the VitalEyes team includes a clinician, who provides firsthand experience in the field.
  • It’s critical to have both clinical and technological expertise.
  • Many technologically-savvy people come up with intriguing ideas, but lack knowledge in how it would work in a real-life setting.
  • Clinicians provide context. They ground it in reality, knowing what’s needed and practical. They can see how the new product could fit into the health care system that is already in place.
  • Including people with different perspectives deepens the brainstorming process.


What is his vision for the future of emergency departments?

  • In the years to come, Choi anticipates more ER patients from vulnerable populations. These patients are at higher risk.
  • Staff will continue to be exceedingly busy. As a result, more patients might fall through the cracks.
  • With VitalEyes, he hopes to prevent some of the potential negative outcomes.

tweetable: “If you…decompensate while you’re waiting, sometimes people can get missed.”

What impact does he hope VitalEyes will have on patient care?

  • Ideally, patients in need will receive treatment more efficiently.
  • It would also provide a backup system in case people become unstable.

tweetable: “We do see a lot of people who may not be able to express themselves when their health is deteriorating quickly.”

What is next for Choi?

  • There are a couple new partnership opportunities on the horizon.
  • He wants to build their team to see what’s possible with their resources.
  • They aren’t restricting themselves to a particular place.

tweetable: “It’s a good time to be involved in technology and medicine.”

What advice would he give other students thinking about innovation?

  • Be passionate about technology.
  • Don’t be intimidated.

tweetable: “I think the most important thing is to be passionate about technology if you want to get involved in technology.”


Recommended resources

Meet emerging physician innovators Charles Choi and Eric Zhao, a Boldly video.

Life after the great hatch: Seeing clearly with VitalEyes, a Hatching Health success story feature.

Bringing medicine to the digital age via hackathons and beyond, a Journal of Medical Systems academic article (paid access for full article).

The digital hospital of the future, a Deloitte report on the digital future of medicine.

Virtual health -- Coordinating care in the future, a Forbes article on how technology will shape the future of medicine.



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The opinions stated by podcast participants are made in a personal capacity and do not reflect those of the Canadian Medical Association and its subsidiaries, including Joule. Joule does not endorse any views, product, service, association, company or industry mentioned in this podcast.