By Susannah Fox
A big part of my role as the Chief Technology Officer at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is to create space for innovation.
I help run the HHS IDEA Lab, which was established in 2013 to improve how HHS delivers on its mission. Our strategy, in a nutshell, is to help our colleagues set audacious goals and then invite people to assist, from inside and outside of the federal government.
In alignment with this vision, we launched an initiative called Invent Health, designed to empower inventors to create tools for better living and better clinical care. We are widening the definition of “technology” to include hardware, medical and assistive devices, because we believe that the democratization of design and manufacturing tools is going to follow the same path as we saw in the democratization of access to information and data.
The widespread popularity of 3D printers has created an opportunity for the production of custom-designed assistive devices like prosthetic hands and arms. E-NABLE is a network of volunteers who will take an order, for example, from someone who has lost their fingers or has a birth difference, but would like to be able to pick up an object. This peer-to-peer community shares open-source prototypes and publishes their design files in the public domain so that anyone can copy and improve on their ideas.
The National Institutes of Health’s 3D Print Exchange is an online portal to open-source data and tools for discovering, creating, and sharing 3D-printable models. This platform also enables the sharing of designs for on-demand, low-cost prosthetics and assistive devices. The goal is to empower researchers, clinicians, and the public with high-quality, informative models that inspire new discoveries that transform science and health care.
We are at critical inflection point in our history where we are in a better position than ever before to leverage the American spirit of invention to create ways for people to live more independently, in better health, and with greater dignity.
Indeed, the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center, which is dedicated to the study of invention in American history, decided to challenge kids to think of a real-world health problem and come up with a solution for it. Hundreds of kids submitted designs and prototypes for inventions like a frostbite warning system or a “gripper glove” for people with low dexterity.
We have so much to learn from unexpected partners: kids, parents, patients, caregivers, and other people both inside and outside of health care.
Imagine what will happen when everyone has access to the tools and information they need to solve their own problems — and share their ideas with others.
On Thursday, June 23, all of the organizations mentioned above — and many more — will be represented at Making Health, an interactive event at the Leavey Center at Georgetown University showcasing how healthcare practitioners, patients, designers, engineers, entrepreneurs, and other tinkerers are creating these types of healthcare solutions. Part of the National Week of Making, this event is open to anyone interested in this intersection between the maker movement and health and the way in which it’s changing people’s lives.
Please join us for a full afternoon of exhibits, demonstrations, and short talks, all setting the scene and providing the opportunity to meet the innovators who are making a difference, one idea at a time. RSVP TODAY!
And if you’re interested in learning more about the maker movement in health, I share in this video why we’re shining a light on this important topic.