Life Hack: How Students are Combining Medicine and Technology to Improve Healthcare

August 7, 2017

It’s Monday morning after a weekend at the cabin. A red rash appears on your child’s stomach.

Instead of calling the clinic, you simply Snapchat a photo of the rash to your kid’s pediatrician.

This would never actually happen – at least not yet.

But it’s the type of progressive thinking that helped University of Minnesota Medical School student Nathan Ratner land an exclusive invitation to Elsevier Hacks, a 48 - hour hackathon in Finland on Aug. 25 to 27 that will harness technology to address challenges in medical education and healthcare.

“Medicine is an exciting field because there are always new ways to improve things whether it’s treatments, clinical processes or patient relationships,” Ratner said. “By using technology we can unlock so much untapped potential, so this hackathon on a global scale is very exciting to be a part of.”

Ratner is one of just 16 medical school students selected from nearly 1,600 applicants across 88 countries. He’s the only student from North America and hopes the event will be a springboard for innovative ideas and relationships that will one day impact healthcare.

Ratner is already discussing areas of technology opportunity with a leader at the American Academy of Family Physicians and other faculty within the university.

His initial ideas include creating ways for more colloquial, yet meaningful communications that enhance the patient-doctor relationship – think emojis – making electronic medical records more physician friendly, or possibly creating tools that help reduce physician burnout.

One of Ratner’s mentors, Jon Hallberg, MD, associate professor within the medical school’s Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, first encouraged him to apply.

“It’s important that aspiring care providers and researchers who want to go into academic medicine are given opportunities to collaborate on big ideas,” Hallberg said. “I expect he and others will broaden their understanding of medical education around the world and how healthcare works in other countries. I’m looking forward to hearing about the potential innovations they’ll work on.”

Beyond a great learning opportunity, Ratner sees this as an opportunity to affect broader change that will benefits patients.

“If we can use technology to educate medical students better, help researchers analyze data more effectively, or physicians to engage more meaningfully, these things will ultimately help more patients in one way or another,” Ratner said. “I’m driven to innovate because at the end of the day, I want to improve people’s health.”