Oct 10, 2011

UC Prof Uses Card Games to Solve Medical Challenges

When it comes to solving healthcare challenges – diabetes, obesity, stroke – Professor Mary Beth Privitera feels that creativity holds the key. In fact, she’s so passionate about helping her students think outside the box that she created a card game that challenges them to develop creative solutions to medical problems.

Her approach was detailed in a recent article in the e-zine Soapbox Cincinnati. The associate professor of biomedical engineering  has developed the puzzle/card game featured in the article as a way to spark creative thinking among her students. 

The game puts students into teams of three to five, deals them a medical problem, then challenges them to develop a medical device to treat it. With game problems such as “a non-invasive knee replacement” and constraints defined as “all patients have an allergy to plastic,” players have to open their mind just to understand what exactly needs to be designed. Students work together to create the device, get it to market, navigate federal and international healthcare regulations and find ways to finance their projects. The process, Privitera argues, helps students move past the most obvious answer, and think outside the “triangle”.

“The Medical Device Innovation Program, with its clinical partnerships, allows for those creative and seemingly silly concepts to be fully explored in hopes to improve clinical care.  Our culture of team building and collaboration across disciplines within the university safety net promotes risk taking and exploration beyond what you can do in industry,” says Privitera.

The game has already proven itself to be a hit. Several British universities have already shown interest in Professor Privitera’s methods, and a U.K. version of the game is being developed in partnership with Nottingham University.  In addition, students used the game during the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) IdeaLab at Northwestern University this past June, a workshop that helps students better understand biomedical design through a series of case studies, creative experiences and intensive hands-on exercises.

There’s no telling where the game will go from here, but one thing is certain: Professor Privitera’s students are without a doubt more prepared to come up with creative solutions in the real-world. As the professor says in the Soapbox article, “Creative solutions are important in the real world for difficult-to-treat patients. If a treatment doesn't work well for a patient, and that's all a physician has, then you as a patient don't have the best possible outcome.”

That’s something we can all agree on!

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