ICS and medical students team up for second annual Med AppJam

Medical and computer science students rarely mingle in the same classroom, much less the same part of campus — but as the intersection between technology and health care continues to broaden, events like Med AppJam show that the two groups can achieve a great deal together.

UC Irvine School of Medicine and Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences students teamed up for an “app jam” designed to create Apple-based applications with health care utility. Teams of five to six students spent two weeks in late 2013 hammering out caffeine-fueled ideas.

“There were definitely a few all-nighters,” declares ICS junior Robhy Bustami. “I would say I spent roughly six hours every day working on the app, whether it be studying, drawing things out or coding.”

The results of such efforts? Apps that remind users to take their medication, help patients better explain the basis of their pain to their physicians, or efficiently track patient medical histories.

For ICS senior Marvin Lowrance, communication was the most rewarding aspect of the project. “We all came in with a different idea as to what we felt would make a great app, but being able to communicate well with one another led us to the best solution,” he says. “Collaboration was key.”

Med App Jam At the awards ceremony the teams presented their products to judges from the UC Irvine faculty and from tech companies including Local Splash, Visible Health, Microsoft and MobilityWare. The top three teams received $1,000, $500 and $250 respectively as prizes.

Last year in the inaugural Med AppJam, 19 teams vied for the crown. This time around, the event attracted 23 teams with a desire to enhance patient experience. Some of the contestants found inspiration close-to-home. “I spoke with my wife, who was once hospitalized for depression and anxiety,” says ICS senior Marco Gonzalez of Team 18. “I asked her, ‘You were a patient once, how would an app have helped you?’ She gave me a lot of great ideas and led me to speak with others who have struggled with low-mood disorders, and the overwhelming consensus was that the app needed to be customizable.” Team 18 designed its app, Moodivator, to address that need.

Med App Jam Second place in the competition went to Team 2, which developed APP-nea, which helps people suffering from sleep apnea screen and assess their condition. “For us, the concept of the app just clicked in our mind when the medical student on our team explained the problems they were having,” says ICS senior Eelin Lim. Standard testing for sleep apnea is very expensive; the app was designed to be a much more affordable alternative. “We started building the app immediately after, jumping directly into developing an algorithm and writing the code.”

Med App Jam The top prize went to Team 5, which created Berry, an app that helps diabetes patients by rewarding them for managing their disease. “The most important thing that I learned was how to find the strengths in other people,” says ICS senior Karan Sekhri of the winning team. “This is the first time that I’ve had such a positive experience in working with a group. I’ve participated in other group projects before, but I’ve never worked with such a dedicated, hard-working group of guys. We really brought out the best in each other, and that was probably the most valuable thing that I got out of this process.”

Collaboration between students in the two schools is a natural step. The Bren School regularly sponsors AppJam competitions — a concurrent one, AppJam+, involved UC Irvine undergraduates coaching Orange County middle-school children to create educational apps for K-6 students. The School of Medicine is renowned for its iMedEd initiative, which is the basis of the nation’s first medical education program to completely adopt the iPad format for classroom and clinical skills training. Many UC Irvine medical students have embraced the iMedEd aesthetic, learning how to program and regularly reviewing medical education apps and technology on their iMedEd blog. The Med AppJam is thus a natural merger of the schools’ strengths.

“This is where medicine is heading,” said Dr. Ralph Clayman, dean of the UC Irvine School of Medicine. “Mobile medicine – using smart phones and iPads to access health care. And with Med AppJam we see the powerful association between computer science and medical students at UCI to create new and effective ways for people to connect.”

“Developments in information technology are transforming virtually every industry,” said Hal Stern, the Ted and Janice Smith Family Foundation Dean of the Bren School. “It is exciting to see UC Irvine medical and computer science students work together to bring such changes to health care.”