Education

WSU students’ app could win national prize – and save lives

WSU students semifinalists for Innovate Her award

Three Wichita State biomedical engineering students have advanced to the semifinal round of the national Innovate Her: Innovating for Women Business Challenge. (Video by Supriya Sridhar / The Wichita Eagle)
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Three Wichita State biomedical engineering students have advanced to the semifinal round of the national Innovate Her: Innovating for Women Business Challenge. (Video by Supriya Sridhar / The Wichita Eagle)

As they sat around a metal table surrounded by fluorescent lights and glass walls, Gina LeBar, Shauntel Pearson and Nicole Zimmerman smiled nervously at each other.

They have spent many days at the table studying and working on a dream that may finally come true.

The three Wichita State University biomedical engineering students have advanced to the semifinal round of the national Innovate Her: Innovating for Women Business Challenge.

They have developed an application designed to assist in the prevention of postpartum hemorrhaging by encouraging active management methods through the third stage of labor.

“We are hoping to completely decrease cases of postpartum hemorrhaging,” Zimmerman said.

The application

According to a multihospital study, every 10 minutes in the U.S., a woman almost dies from pregnancy-related complications. Postpartum hemorrhaging is the leading cause of these complications.

The WSU students’ application keeps track of every patient that a particular nurse is taking care of and categorizes them into risk levels using keywords from the patient’s medical records, LeBar said. The application also takes note of vital signs that play into the categorization of risk levels.

Depending on what stage of labor a patient is in and her risk factors, the application will give the nurse mitigation methods to prevent postpartum hemorrhaging. During this process, there are alerts keeping track of and readjusting the patient’s risk level, LeBar said.

The application was created during the students’ capstone class in which they had to spend time in a hospital, identify a need and create a possible solution. LeBar and Pearson did observations at Wesley Medical Center and realized that postpartum hemorrhaging was an issue, Pearson said.

They interviewed an obstetrician who told them that the issue wasn’t the lack of treatment options. The problem is nurses are constantly doing tasks during labor and delivery at such a fast pace, and there is nothing that puts all their chart data together, Pearson said.

“There’s plenty of tools they have to treat it – it’s being able to implement them and take action,” LeBar said.

The key: empathy

Gary Brooking, the group’s capstone course instructor, said that although he requires students to enter competitions, this group’s empathy and openness to explore solutions are what set them apart.

“They were very good at trying to understand from a client’s perspective and the patient’s side, and that’s something that’s really hard and something that I try and get across to students,” Brooking said.

After taking three years to decide she wanted to be a biomedical engineer, Zimmerman finished the entire program in two. Although she didn’t spend time in the hospital with LeBar and Pearson, seeing members of her family go through postpartum hemorrhaging helped make her passionate about the project, she said.

Both LeBar and Pearson are mothers. Pearson wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon coming into college. However, having her son her freshman year changed her life.

“Having him really made me a lot more interested in maternal medicine,” Pearson said. “I love being a mom, and I don’t feel like anybody should be robbed of that opportunity.”

For LeBar, the inspiration extended beyond motherhood. She said she felt women are underrepresented in the medical field.

Going to the hospital and seeing the problems caused by postpartum hemorrhaging made her decide she wanted to do something to fix it.

“Anything to help women, we’re about,” LeBar said

The future

The Innovate Her competition, sponsored by the U.S. Small Business Association, looks to find products and services that help women. Three finalists will be announced July 31, and the winner will get $40,000.

Although they don’t know the results of the competition – the prize money would primarily help with funding and advertising – the group has already started to think about the future of their product.

They’d like to have a programmer develop the app and do more rounds at the hospital to make sure the program is feasible and that nurses would want to use it, Zimmerman said.

They would also like to work on marketing to get hospitals interested in the product, LeBar said.

Brooking said he thinks there is a future for the product due to the need it serves as well as its financial viability for hospitals.

“I really do believe that this is something, regardless of the Innovate Her competition, this is an idea that if they are willing to put the effort in, this could result in a company,” Brooking said.

Supriya Sridhar: 316-268-6246, @Supriyasridhar

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