Challenge offers students BlackBerry to solve healthcare woes

Do you have an idea for solving an existing problem related to the universal access of disease diagnosis, medical treatment or overall healthcare management?

If you do, then people at Agfa HealthCare Canada would like to hear about it. And you could win a $3,000 scholarship and a trip to Belgium or a summer job with the tech company for all your troubles.
Agfa is now receiving submissions for its third annual Innovation Challenge. The company is on college and university students across Ontario to pitch their ideas on how to improve healthcare through the use of technology.

“This challenge aims to help students gain a deeper appreciation of the medical environment and how their ideas can make a contribution to the field,” said Jeff Nesbitt, vice-president for government relations and strategic programs at Agfa.

Nesbitt said this year’s competition question is: “What is a potential solution to a current challenge associated with universal access, privacy and ease of use pertaining to disease diagnosis, medical treatment, and overall healthcare management?”

Contestants work in teams to find tech solutions based on the question. Contestants have until Nov. 5 to submit their proposed solutions. Teams with the top five proposals are brought to Waterloo, Ont. on Nov. 19 to present their ideas before a panel of judges.

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Top prize winners get an Agfa scholarship worth $3,000 which can be applied to any school or course, plus a trip to the company’s headquarters in Belgium for a chance to pitch their idea for future implementation. Grand prize winners call also pick a summer job with Agfa.

Runners-up get a choice of the new BlackBerry Torch smartphone or gift certificates from Future. For more contest details, those interested can visit: .

Healthcare system challenges

“Healthcare is entering exciting times with various technological advances, however, fundamental challenges remain,” said Nesbitt.

For instance, much of medical information workflow is still analog and manual. Likewise, he said, little progress has been made on making healthcare systems easier for patients to access and understand. As many as four billion people worldwide do not have access to radiology and health imaging services and in many cases health centres have limited network infrastructure and Internet connectivity, according to Agfa.

Agfa also said that medical errors which could pose as threats to patient safety occur throughout even first world healthcare systems in: hospitals; clinics, outpatient surgery centres; doctors’ offices; nursing homes; pharmacies; and patients’ homes.

“It is in this context that we are challenging young students experiment and explore possible solutions to today’s problems,” said Nesbitt.

Previous contest winners

The winning proposal presented by University of Waterloo students Noemi Chandra and Pavel Roshanov in the 2008 contest, helps patients actively monitor their medication.

The team developed an online system which patients can use for managing their warfarin dosage. Warfarin is an anticoagulant used for preventing blot clots in many disorders.

Typically patients using warfarin need to visit a clinic to determine if dosage needs to be adjusted. Chandra and Roshanov developed and IP-based system that enables patients to chart their own progress and transmit the data to healthcare providers through the Internet.

This enabled patients to actively participate in their own healthcare and significantly reduced the number of trips they have to make to the hospital.

Nesbitt said Agfa registered the solution for patenting under Chandra and Roshanov’s names. The team stands to receive royalties for their invention if it gets rolled out. However, Nesbitt said Chandra and Roshanov “appear to favour open sourcing the solution.”

Nestor Arellano is a Senior Writer at Follow him on Twitter, read his blog, and join the IT Business Facebook Page.

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