Archive for the 'disaster' Category

Mass Customization in Prosthetic Care

We’ve been up to a lot here at The BETH Project. Thanks in part to the support of the IDEAS Global Challenge and MIT Public Service Center, we’ve been busy prototyping, testing and talking to patients and prosthetists.

The BETH Project team first  came together at a MIT H@cking Medicine conference in early 2012, gathering around Asa’s proposal to leverage desktop 3D printing technology to respond to the need of low cost prosthesis in developing countries. Early on we identified that the challenges in providing prosthetic could not be simply solved by reducing existing device cost to increase availability. We began to investigate how the system of care was limiting affordable healthcare and mobility solutions for the global population.

A central problem to addressing the developing world was the lack of trained prosthetists, which essentially creates a bottleneck to meeting the demand for prosthetic care. Even today’s most advanced sockets are made using a half-century old iterative artisanal process that can take weeks and requires expensive specialized machinery.  The limited labor force in combination with the overhead costs results in care facility consolidation making it even more challenging for patient with limited mobility to access the care they need. The World Health Organization estimates there is a shortage of 40,000 prosthetists in the world today and at the current rate it will take 50 years to train another 17,000. This insight led us to design our solution from the ground up instead of trying to attach our ideas onto the existing fabrication and care paradigm.

As with many personal medical devices, understanding the challenges requires getting up close and personal with the problem. Unless you are close to a loved one who wears a prosthesis or you work in the industry, you would not be aware of the daily routines and maintenance that comes with using an artificial limb. After speaking with amputees who have worn prostheses from anywhere from a few months to sixty years, the one concern that came up over and over again was comfort. The difference between comfortable and uncomfortable is quite subtle and a common means to adjust for greater comfort is to grind the hard socket as shown in the image below.



The socket is the core component to a comfortable fitting prosthesis because forms a crucial interface between an amputee’s residual limb and his or her prosthesis. Structurally sockets are unique in that they are required to carry heavy loads and function as an  extension of our skeletal structure, but at the same time provide a comfortable interface where contact is made with an amputee’s soft muscle and skin tissue. Our goal of providing a comfortable fit with a simple fitting process led us to explore socket material alternatives. Conventionally, this is the rigid composite receptacle that is attached to the top of lower-limb prostheses. Unlike the rest of the prosthetic limb, which is generally a standardization part, the socket must be custom fabricated for each individual then painstakingly fitted, adjusted and replaced over time. Ill-fitting sockets are common because of the natural volume changes in our bodies which leads to and uncomfortable fit and if not adjusted, sores that can lead to infections that ultimately compromise amputee health and mobility.


The BETH Project is focused on addressing these challenges with an adjustable socket design that provides the ability to accommodate natural volume changes and reduce pressure on sensitive areas to promote faster healing of sores while extending the usability of a prosthetic limb. Our chosen material provides the opportunity to tap the benefits of mass manufacturing rather than local fabrication, thus lowering costs for all care providers and creating a consistent quality standard for sockets. In places where trained personal and facilities are a premium we hope to relieve care providers from the complexities of socket fabrication, and in some cases providing the opportunity for physical therapists who have transferable skills to fit and provide rehabilitative care to amputees.

Hitting Backspace – Recovers.org Focus on Preparedness

After winning the IDEAS Global Challenge, our team took a hard look at our project’s mission and vision. One of our greatest strengths as first a student group and then a company has been that we never assume we are doing the right thing. I can imagine nothing less helpful to disaster recovery than to build a complicated pack of tools and try to force people on the ground to use them. For this reason, we develop by constantly flying into disaster areas and checking our development against needs on the ground.

It was during this same process of boot-on-the-ground testing, we realized that our favored method of dropping out of the sky to deploy software was not best way to help communities recover. In fact, we realized that much of the work needed to increase community resilience must be done before the storm.

Morgan and Dave flew to Florida in the wake of Tropical Storm Debby, only to find that no one they spoke to in the communities they visited seemed to realize how important it was that they begin taking in some of the aid being offered. After a frustrating week, they left (read more about the trip and our lessons here: http://recovers.wordpress.com/2012/08/18/slow-burn/). Eventually, a local organizer using Facebook to scrape together volunteers would take over use of the platform. Under her watch, the software has helped build a community of volunteers that not only responded to Debby’s damage, but also sandbagged homes to prepare for Hurricane Isaac.

Preparedness: the missing ingredient

Whoa, hit the backspace key. We’re talking about two very similar disasters in two very similar communities. What made New Port Richey, FL after TS Debby different than Northfield, VT after TS Irene? It wasn’t our ability to reach the community. We arrived at roughly the same time post-storm. It wasn’t the resources available on the ground – both areas were being served by a multitude of national and regional aid organizations.

It was preparedness.

Suddenly a lot of pieces fell into place. A group of four flying into disaster areas to save the day, while a cool plot for an action flick, is not practical or what is needed. A team of four focused on building tools that will prepare a community to recover, and distributing them before  a disaster is infinitely more useful. We’ve pivoted accordingly, licensing the software as a preparedness tool to interested communities.

Tools:
Back at the drawing board, we took a more critical look at the “community facing” side of our software. Small things, like an easy sign up process, a way to keep involved after signing up, preparedness tips and integration with existing social media chatter, are just as important as volunteer tracking features. It doesn’t matter if we have the best hours logging program in the world if the community isn’t aware they can volunteer.

Timing:
We’ve swung our focus to getting these tools in place ahead of a storm. We can keep our team small and focused, build faster, and provide better service if we’re in place when things hit the proverbial fan. We’ve also realized that it is much more economically sustainable to charge a small fee for preparing towns than it would be to somehow find a sponsor for recovering towns.

We’re on our way – with this new list of priorities, we’re able to narrow our focus and devote more time to the features that will have the greatest impact upon recovery. We still fly into disasters to test things, but we’re building a sustainable business around being there before that.

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Written by Caitria O’Neill with Recovers.org, a 2012 IDEAS Global Challenge award recipient.

Recovers.org provides easy-to-use tools to help communities efficiently structure volunteers, donations and information. http://recovers.org.

Team Profile: Recovers.Org / Developing a New Solution for Disaster Relief

49 teams are signed up to enter this year’s IDEAS Global Challenge. Nick Holden, helping with his knack for writing and interviewing has created a series of profiles on teams.

Last week, he profiled Team Recovers.org who are working to finesse a tool to harness and deploy the power of people’s help after a disaster. I included a snippet of the profile below. You can read the entire profile through this link.

Q. What’s innovative about the solution you are proposing to make an impact on disaster recovery?

A. There’s this huge spike in interest after a disaster. Fifty percent of all web searches seeking to help occur in the first seven days after a disaster.

An affected town loses the potential resources it could get from the initial spike in interest because it doesn’t have the capacity to accept the physical or financial resources. Without the proper technology in place, towns can’t capitalize on that early interest, and they are left without a platform to build more interest and no money for recovery.

Every single community that is affected by a disaster is affected by this technological black hole. For example, FEMA makes aid distribution based upon data it receives from communities after a disaster. That data includes how many volunteers worked, where they worked, for how many hours they worked, and what heavy machinery they used. In the first two weeks after a disaster, towns don’t even know that data needs to be tracked, and they don’t have tools to track it.

We’re disaster experts now because we’ve done this before. What we can do is structure the inputs with really easy-to-use software. We can make a button that says: “Where are you sending this volunteer?” Then we give coordinators this software that allows them to track volunteers. Now, FEMA gets their data, and the town gets more money because of it.

We started going into disaster areas as part of our development. Chris [Kuryak] and I just got back from Alabama. In the course of three-and-a-half days, we were able to set up an online recovery hub for a city that was ravaged by tornadoes on Jan. 24.

Using our website, the community has already flagged tons of cases of fraud attempts — of people going to multiple distribution centers. They’ve collected a massive database of donation items, especially things that are too large for people to bring in and store, but that are going to be needed six months to five years down the road, like china cabinets for people who are rebuilding their homes. It was pretty phenomenal proof-of-concept.

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Keep reading over at the MIT News site.

(Great profile, Nick!)