Rui Su and Kelvin Yam, two senior School of Pharmacy students, spent their last work term out of the pharmacy and at Think Research, a health care technology company in downtown Toronto.
“I wanted to see what pharmacists could do beyond direct patient care,” explains Yam. “In my previous experiences, I would feel frustrated when I came across problems about the health care system itself that prevented me from providing the best care. And I wanted to do something about this.”
As Clinical Research and Development Interns, Yam and Su tackled those system-level problems. Think Research produces technological solutions to complex health system issues, and their products are used in many Ontario hospitals.
“I loved the opportunity to collaborate with multiple disciplines and to use my clinical expertise to help solve problems with engineers, designers, and product managers.” reflects Su. “I was able to contribute to projects that have the potential to improve care for hundreds of people.”
Su and Yam’s work incorporating pharmacogenomics into order sets was one such project. Order sets are templates used in health care settings to help practitioners make clinical decisions and follow consistent procedures. Su and Yam researched and reviewed the clinical application of pharmacogenomic testing – DNA testing to determine how an individual’s genetics influence their response to drugs. The goal was to incorporate pharmacogenomic testing into order sets for use in hospitals.
“As future pharmacists with experience in clinical settings, Kelvin and I were able to provide a unique and useful perspective. We collaborated to determine how the order set would unfold, asking questions like when and how health care providers could incorporate this process into their workflow,” says Su.
Su also has extensive experience competing in hackathons, and both she and Yam have led entrepreneurial ventures and student initiatives. Given their expertise, Su and Yam decided to launch a company Thinkathon.
“I wanted to bring my past experiences to Think Research to produce something novel and useful,” says Su. “I talked to HR about the idea of a day-long competition where employees come together to generate solutions and explore interdisciplinary partnership. They loved it and gave Kelvin and I full rein, providing a budget and letting us design and execute the entire event.”
The Thinkathon was a success: the students ran workshops teaching Think Research employees about concepts like design thinking and provided health care problems for teams to solve. Participants met, designed, and presented all in one day.
“We heard ideas like biometric devices to facilitate care coordination, digital care platforms, and more,” says Yam. “The collaboration across disciplines encouraged original thinking and ideas that could transform how patient care is provided. Think Research loved the event and plans to host one again next year.”
With an aging population and an increasing demand for health services, the kinds of innovative solutions Su and Yam heard at the Thinkathon are in high demand.
“In the 21st century, we need interdisciplinary teams and skills,” says Yam. “Pharmacists can generate new solutions by understanding technology, business, and innovation, just as business people working in health technology can benefit from collaborating with health care professionals to understand clinical topics, workflow, and potential opportunities.”
“Pharmacists have so much to contribute to initiatives tackling the system-level problems we face in health care,” agrees Su. “Don’t be afraid to speak up and seek out opportunities to share your knowledge and expertise.”