Healthy competition: Contest launched on how to provide patient medical history

By Kris B. Mamula / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

It happens often during shifts in the emergency room at Allegheny General Hospital: A patient is brought in with incomplete information about the individual’s health problems.

Maybe the patient is unconscious, so nothing is known, said Paul Porter, an emergency medicine doctor and director of the department at Allegheny General. At a time when doctors may have to work quickly to save a life, they’re left guessing whether the patient has diabetes, heart disease or medication allergies that will affect treatment decisions.

“I just thought, ‘My God, there has to be a better way,’ ” Dr. Porter said. “Somebody has to see the simplicity on the other side of the complexity of this.”

That somebody could also receive a $10,000 prize for the right idea, which is key to Allegheny Health Network’s effort to solve a pressing health care problem. The contest aims to create a wearable technology or application that could contain a patient’s medical history in a secure way.

The idea is to allow the information to be quickly uploaded to AHN’s electronic health records system and be available to doctors in case of emergency.

For decades, people with health problems have stored their medication lists and other pertinent information in a container called the Vial of Life, which is given to emergency responders. The form and container are available free of charge from a charitable nonprofit by the same name, which is based in Marina del Rey, Calif.

Now, AHN is looking for Vial of Life 2.0. Funding the initiative is a $133,000 innovation grant from Pittsburgh insurer Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, which owns the health system.

The contest ends Sept. 15 and the top 10 final teams will present their ideas, with the winner taking home the cash grand prize.

Such contests are increasingly common as corporate research and development departments are dissolved in favor of contracting outside the company for innovation, according to Sanna Gaspard, founder and CEO of Rubitection Inc., an Oakland-based startup company that has developed a way to detect the earliest signs of a bedsore.

Ms. Gaspard’s invention recently took the top prize of $3,000 in the AlphaLab Gear National Hardware Cup Mid-Atlantic Regional competition and her company is registered for two more similar events.

“They’re very effective,” she said about the contests, which she said have been embraced by health care facilities, insurers and others in the past 10 years. “It’s a cost-effective way to innovate.”

Entry and other contest information can be found here.

Kris B. Mamula or 412-263-1699.

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