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How doctors and developers collaborated to find creative solutions to COVID-19 challenges

How doctors and developers collaborated to find creative solutions to COVID-19 challenges

Zoe Dayan

Since March, COVID-19 has shaken up the world – but its effects have also brought out the best in our communities.

Israeli hospital Assuta Ashdod knew it couldn’t just conduct business as usual.

Before there were major cases, the hospital’s Head of Innovation, Dr. Tal Patalon, saw an opportunity to tackle some of the potential biggest COVID-19-related challenges. She saw a chance to bring together technology partners, entrepreneurs, and clinicians to help meet some of the issues that we were starting to experience. 

Dr. Patalon contacted the Ground Forces Innovation Lab of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), the defense technology company Rafael and Amazon Web Services (AWS) in order to brainstorm how they can collaborate and deliver technological solutions for the major challenges we were about to face. 

“We understood that we had an opportunity. On the one hand, there were a lot of good people sitting at home and doing nothing and just wanting to help. And on the other hand, the doctors needed help with technology,” explained Doris Pitilon, Sprint Manager and Head of the Ground Forces Innovation Lab.

The COVID-19 Sprint was born.

How doctors and developers united during COVID-19

The Sprint aimed to tackle the challenges arising from the virus in the fastest way possible. It aimed to do this by connecting software developers with the IDF, Rafael, AWS, and Assuta Hospital.

There was just one catch – how do you host a Sprint when you can’t meet?

Hackathons or Sprints are usually events where participants meet and work intensely, even all night, to meet their goals in a short period of time. But with the lockdown, it was clear meeting wouldn’t be a possibility.

The Sprint had to happen remotely, and that’s where the partnerships with other companies were introduced. Since hundreds of professionals would join from different organizations, they needed a common platform that would connect them and help them effectively work together. 

That’s where monday.com came in.

The platform that aligned everyone

The need for a platform where teams could start working right away without any training required Itai Shabtai, Customer Support Advocate at monday.com, to transition from the way we typically onboard new customers. 

Rather than introducing users to a platform they would use for the long-term, Itai had to focus on only the specific needs of the Sprint. This changed his approach because instead of giving users the building blocks to create their own boards, he strategized the workflow and built a basic template for them to start with. This strategy best fit-in with the needs of the Sprint, which needed to occur in a short amount of time.

“Our mission was to provide the most intuitive, easy-to-use platform and to allow the professional team to focus on the challenge, rather than on learning a whole new platform,” said Itai.

Other than a template for managing projects and requests, Itai also created a board where developers could ask doctors questions.

monday.com covid-19 board template

“We created a template board for each team so they could start using the platform right away. The amazing part was that in less than two days every board looked different and was customized according to the team’s needs and workflows,” said Itai.

24 hours later, with the platform ready, it was time to get the word out and recruit software developers!

The organizations told clinicians and software developers about the Sprint by posting in different WhatsApp groups, forums, and Facebook. With just these efforts, in 3 days, 1,000 people signed up, out of which 250 participated. 

Covid-19 Sprint

So, what challenges did the Sprint tackle?

There were two rounds of the Sprint, each lasting two weeks and addressing solutions to 9 COVID-19 challenges

Challenges tackled in Round 1:

  1. Identifying potential coronavirus symptoms
  2. Running out of BiPAP ventilators
  3. Contamination of medical staff while changing in and out of protective gear
  4. Over-burdening of hospitals
  5. Infection of medical staff while treating patients

Challenges tackled in Round 2:

  1. Ventilators diffusing the virus into rooms
  2. Updating hospital staff on constantly changing regulations
  3. Communication between families and critically-ill patients
  4. Shortage of skilled doctors

It was still early on, so there was a lot of guesswork going into coming up with the challenges. In March, when the Sprint started, some of the challenges seemed more critical than others. However, the urgency of these challenges changed with the progression of COVID-19.

“Everyone was talking about lack of respirators and today we know that is not true, but then everyone thought that would be the biggest challenge,” Dr. Houminer noted.

On the other hand, communication solutions between patients and their families were only tackled in the second round, but have surged in importance as the number of patients in critical condition increased.

Technology that connects patients and families, disposable protective suits, and more

There were simply too many patients and not enough time for the staff to individually call and update families. The medical staff needed a way to keep families of patients in intensive care up-to-date. Connecting families with patients was especially important because many patients were in their final moments. 

One of the teams developed ISeeU, an active information transfer system that uses video call technology. ISeeU has proven very useful as, oftentimes, critically ill patients are attached to a ventilator and cannot speak or muster the strength to hold a device. 

The solution consists of a tablet on a stand, where the technology enables patients to see their loved ones, all while doctors control the device from outside the room. The ISeeU system also provides families of critically-ill patients with regular updates on their loved-one’s condition.

Other solutions consisted of an app that could help detect symptoms from a distance, a simple and inexpensive pipe-based breathing system, and a two-piece disposable protective suit

During the Sprint, over 200 participants, most of whom work full-time and have families, used their talent, passion and goodwill to create real results all while working remotely.

“It was amazing how many people dedicated 24/7 to work on an initiative they don’t get value from. They don’t get an IP for it or money. In one and a half months, they established something that takes 15 months worth of work,” said Doris. The volunteers recognized the crisis and knew that by participating in the Sprint they would become a part of something that could make an impact and help our communities. 

All of the solutions are open-source so they are available for anyone to access on the COVID-19 Sprint website.

In such a time of uncertainty, this collaboration shows how much we can accomplish when we step out of our norm and join forces to help our community.