“Medical translation can be very tricky. A patient might say, `Your child is having a fit,’ and with Google Translate it comes out, `Your child is dead.’”
The speaker is Nishant Verma, a junior in bioengineering at Rice University, whose team, Found in Translation, hopes to ease miscommunications and non-communications between doctors and patients. Verma and his teammates won the Global Oncology Prize during Health++ 2017, an annual hackathon at Stanford University held Oct. 21-22.
The event drew more than 200 participants, resulting in 52 ideas pitched and 33 projects completed. Some $13,000 in prizes were awarded, with $500 going to Found in Translation.
Verma went to Stanford with a vague idea about what to do with second-hand medical equipment in the world’s under-resourced regions. On campus he met Dr. Victor Cueto, a pediatrician at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford. From clinical experience, Cueto understood the challenges of dealing with patients who speak little or no English.
“Victor told us the need was heaviest with poorer people, especially immigrants. Sometimes the people who need the most help can’t get it because they can’t communicate what the problem is. The app has to be very accurate,” Verma said.
Also joining Verma’s hackathon team were an Arabic medical translator, a Stanford MBA student from Japan, a sophomore in bioengineering at the University of California-Berkeley, and a research physician from San Francisco.
At a traditional hackathon, participants often work on projects around the clock, fueled by coffee and energy drinks. At Health++, hacking officially started at 12:30 p.m. Saturday and continued until 2:30 p.m. Sunday. “I was working with adults. We stopped around 7:30 Saturday and got some sleep,” Verma said.
“It was an unusual approach to a hackathon. We didn’t do a lot of hacking,” he said. “We did a lot of talking, focusing on an understanding of the need and the clinical implementations of a solution. We had people on the team from many different backgrounds, and everybody had something to offer in discussion. I believe Victor left with a deeper understanding of the problem as well as a sketch of a solution, and he is looking for avenues to take the project even further,” he said.