Health Information Makerspaces: Lessons From #HIMSS17

This year I ran the first ever makerspace at a HIMSS conference. Search for #HIMSSmakers (an official HIMSS17 hashtag!) for lots of fun tweets about the HIMSS17 Innovation Makerspace. Here is the description from the HIMSS17 exhibitor directory:

Become a healthcare maker! Hands-on tools for fun, learning, design, invention, and creation! Makerspaces are creative, do-it-yourself spaces where people gather to create, invent, and learn. We have a 3D-printer, CNC tools, LittleBits, and IoT platforms, from Arduino to Raspberry Pi. Come by and, by the end of HIMSS17, build a working prototype of your idea to improve patient, provider, or user experience. Follow Chuck Webster, MD (@wareFLO on Twitter) for news, photos, and videos!

If you'd like to see the best of those photos and videos, visit my post HIMSS17 blog post.

What was and were my experience and lessons for the future?

My fantasy stretch goal -- a HIMSS17 attendee starting Monday morning and creating a functional prototype, in a 3D-printed enclosure, connected to the cloud, by Wednesday afternoon -- was, sadly, not achieved. (Though I did distribute a bunch of cool laser cut and engraved badges to other HIMSS17 Social Media Ambassadors.) Maybe next year! On the other hand, I guesstimate I talked about and demoed HIMSS17 Innovation Makerspace tools and platforms with and to at least 500 attendees and exhibitors.

As you can see from the above tweet, the makerspace resembles, well, a big pile of stuff! Folks would come around the corner, and stop and stare. After a while they'd say one of two things. "What happened! What exploded?" <grin> and "I know exactly what's going on; I have half this stuff at home!" <grin>

If you'd like a more in-depth feel for the makerspace vibe, watch the following hour-long Periscope video. I started giving a tour, but spent most of the hour interviewing passerbyers about their reactions to the makerspace.

Well, that was my experience. What were my lessons for the future?

Makerspaces are sprouting like mushrooms in the spring, in elementary and high schools, libraries, communities, engineering, medical, and nursing schools, and even hospitals, especially children's hospitals. Makerspaces share three characteristics: tools for making stuff, education for using the tools, and engaged communities. But makerspaces also differ according to community. For example, patients tend to focus on creating solutions to help manage their illnesses. School-based makerspaces prepare students for future occupations. My personal makerspace is devoted to making little robots, such as @MrRIMP.

There is also a unique and valuable role to played by health information makerspaces.

First of all, makerspaces are fun, because creating interactive physical artifacts is fun.

Second, health information management and IT is not solely about virtual ones-and-zeros software. Increasingly HIM and HIT will also be about robots and wearables and the Internet-of-Things: Things! Hardware, that is. Makerspaces are perfect vehicles to understand and master interactions between the physical world and software data and workflows.

Third, and perhaps most important, the cool prototypes and products created by patients, nurses, and physicians ultimately need to be incorporated or accommodated by enterprise health IT systems. Health information management and health IT professionals can help create sophisticated software inside these electromechanical wonders. And they must safeguard the stability of existing health IT systems and privacy of personally identifiable health data. Therefore, health information management and health IT makerspaces have an important role to help meet patient/nurse/physician makers half way. They need to be part of, and contribute to, a growing, enabling, and empowering ecosystem of creative healthy healthcare invention.

One problem with hardware vs software is you can't instantly download hardware for virtually nothing. Amazon is heading there, but isn't there yet! But, maker tools and platforms are getting downright cheap. I've owned three 3d printers. My most recent printer is the best I've owned and costs less than $200. The development boards (tiny computers that process input such as movement, sound and light, and turn it into data and actions someplace else on the planet) are often only 10 or 20 bucks apiece.

I'd love to see a whole bunch of HIM/HIT makerspaces, perhaps at the level of local HIMSS chapters, networked together, to co-support and co-enable a health information maker movement.

I'll close with a quote from Thomas Edison. Ironically, it was on the back wall of the HIMSS17 Innovation Makerspace in the above tweeted photo. But you can't see it!

"To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk."

--Thomas A. Edison

Why can't you see it? Because it's behind a pile of junk!