Democratizing healthcare is one of the mantras of the Maker Nurse movement. In his 2014 book, “The Maker Manifesto: Rules for Innovation in the New World of Crafters, Hackers, and Tinkerers,” author and founder of TechShop, Mark Hatch, spells out the vision that turned manufacturing in every sphere upside down by placing advanced tools and spaces in the hands of do-it-yourselfers. Making, sharing, giving, and learning form cornerstones of this vision. Co-founders of MakerNurse, Jose Gomez-Marquez and Anna Young, have applied the Maker vision to identifying tools that could help innovative nurses bring their ideas to fruition in order to facilitate improvements in patient care.
Necessity is the mother of invention. If a Chinese man unable to afford long-term dialysis can extend his own life with a home-built dialysis machine, why not make similar tools available to frontline healthcare workers such as nurses. That was the thinking fueling the desire to turn nurses into Makers, according to Gomez-Marques (watch YouTube video here). His other inspiration for an inventor that transformed healthcare was Dr. Gruentzig, who performed the first coronary angioplasty on an awake human in 1977. The D.I.Y. physician cobbled together the thin tube with a balloon on its end in his kitchen. When the opportunity presented itself in the form of a patient with heart disease in which the arteries were clogged with a sticky material called plaque, he sprang into action to perform a procedure now seen as routine in most hospitals. Simply put, a tube with a balloon on the end is threaded through the arm or groin to the affected area and, when in place, the doctor inflates the balloon to push the plaque outward against the artery walls. This widens the artery to normalize blood flow.
Fast forward to September 2013 and the launch of MakerNurse where tools, platforms, and trainings are provided to the D.I.Y. community to make the next generation of healthcare technology. The founders tapped into their knowledge that nurses were innovating for years, submitting their information on how to make different medical gadgets to publications like the American Journal of Nursing. Where does on find these D.I.Y nurses. The answer is in non-ideal environments eg, after a catastrophe eg, Hurricane Sandy, or in rural areas.
Who are the D.I.Y nurses?
Garcia-Marquez relates the story of one oncology nurse who eased the fears of pediatric cancer patients by explaining the process of irradiation for their tumors using a small-scale replica he built of the machine used for this purpose, called a synchrotron. Children are patiently led through the process of proton therapy, where their bodies are placed in a donut-shaped hole in the machine and rotated so that protons can be directed at their tumors. At the other end of the spectrum, one finds entrepreneurial nurses who make color-coded IV’s and sell them to hospitals. Then there are the stealth or quiet Maker nurses who eg, hack and repair their own stethoscopes. These are just a few of the profiles of people who Garcia-Marquez and his co-founder, Anna Young, have managed to unite under the MakerNurse umbrella.
Who are the founders of MakerNurse?
Gómez-Márquez, a thirtysomething native of Honduras, has cemented the reputation that he gained as a tinkerer and inventor of practical medical devices for use in poor countries through his work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He recalls: “My mother used to say my toys would last only a few days because I would take them apart, saying I had detected a defect.” In Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, where his grandfather worked as a surgeon, Gómez-Márquez saw with his own eyes what differences money made in access to medical services. His grandfather, a surgeon, worked at both private and public hospitals in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, where Gómez-Márquez saw with his own eyes the differences that money made in access to medical services. According to him:”Poor people, who went to the public hospital, were less likely to get chemotherapy or appropriate prostheses. People who could afford it would go to Texas or Boston for their health care.” The prolific inventor and his team has also developed a needle-free system for delivery of the measles vaccine for use in poor countries, where the disease still kills hundreds of people a day.
The other co-founder, Anna Young, is an economist-turned designer and lectures at the Little Devices Lab at MIT within the Institute for Medical Engineering and Science. She is a co-instructor for MIT’s health tech prototyping and design course, HST Maker Lab. Her expertise is in: digital fabrication and design, creating technology from found materials, building networks of health technology innovators and designing clinical studies to move health technology prototypes from the lab and into practice. This expertise was in ample evidence with the invention of a solar-operated autoclave, called the Solarclave. This device is especially useful in areas lacking a constant supply of electricity to generate a constant supply of electricity required to attain the 250°F minimum temperature for sterilization of instruments and other supplies in healthcare environments.
Footnote: They have recently spun off Pop Up Labs, a privately-held company to make tools to scale across clinical environments.