Ask the CAMTech Innovator: Wendy Lin of USAID Global Health Supply Chain – Procurement and Supply Management Program
Wendy Lin is a PPMR Analyst at USAID Global Health Supply Chain – Procurement and Supply Management Program
Your background is in global public health, and you are currently a Procurement Planning and Monitoring Report Analyst at USAID Global Health Supply Chain. Why did you decide to take on the role of in innovator at CAMTech’s Empire State Opioid Epidemic Innovation Challenge?
I’ve always been interested in digital health, and have participated in several health-related hack-a-thons in the past. I love to see how ideas pitched on a Friday night evolve over a weekend as teams pivot their ideas or narrow them down to a minimum viable product. Hack-a-thons really help me keep up with latest technologies in the field of digital health and to think about what can be potentially applied in the global health space. Every hack-a-thon also gives me the opportunity to learn about a disease or health challenge, its unmet need, and how to form a solution around it. The opioid epidemic challenge is definitely one of the areas that I’d like to learn more about through working on a solution.
During the Solutions Sprint, you and Team RecoverWe received the $1,500 Northwell Health Innovation Award for innovating real-time, personalized peer support that connects peers with local resources via integrated search engines. What did you contribute to your team’s win using your expertise in global public health, and what did you learn from other team members who don’t have the same skillsets as you?
I think the global public health perspective is very valuable in how we approach this as a population health issue, using our training in behavior change communication and intervention design. Our solution really was a team effort. The project required team member’s experience with recovery and family support while the rest of the team utilized their separate areas of expertise to facilitate and formulate the problem. I think we really have a great balance of members, including those with recovery experience, clinicians, scientist, public health professional, and engineer.
In 2016, you also participated in CAMTech’s Global Cancer Innovation Hack-a-thon. How were your experiences different innovating solutions to the opioid epidemic domestically vis-à-vis a non-communicable disease like cancer globally?
Our team MedMap in the Global Cancer Innovation Hack-a-thon was about creating a global cancer drug online marketplace (similar to GoodRx) to tackle drug pricing issues. Compared to the domestic opioid crisis, with a global, general non-communicable disease as the challenge, teams would have to put effort into researching the prevalence and unmet need of the specific cancer chosen, in order to justify the pain point and solution. Also, since it was a “global” challenge, there had to be a focus on populations of the developing world, which made it more difficult to include their perspective within the space of a weekend, if the target group is in Africa (for example). The depth and complexity of a solution would really depend on how much insight a team has for the population they want to serve. I think one of the reasons I particularly enjoyed the opioid challenge in September was that there was the Challenge Summit that provided participants with great insights in the epidemic, before teams start to brainstorm ideas.
Since 2016, what changes have you seen in the medtech startup space?
My observation is quite general, but I have noticed more programs established to encourage and support new ideas (such as CAMTech’s Innovation Platform or Brigham Digital Innovation Hub). Solutions in telemedicine, Artificial Intelligence application in healthcare, or various mobile applications designed for different health monitoring purposes will continue to be tested; and clinicians, patients and caretakers will be more familiar utilizing new tools. What I’d like to see more are digital solutions in the global health space, beyond just using mobile applications to collect data, for community health workers to monitor patients, or for health education purposes. I would like to see more real “innovation” using technology to address the resource limitations in the developing world.
CAMTech uses a co-creation model to convene experts in public health, clinical medicine, government, engineering, design, business, and community organizing to innovate solutions to pressing clinical and public health needs. Why do you think it’s so important to have a diverse group of skillsets approach the public health challenges of our time?
If a team tried to solve a health challenge without one of the roles and expertise mentioned above, they might end up not knowing enough about the needs of the patients and clinicians to design a useful product or process. They might lose sight of the population or systematic perspective; or the health communications and interventions that a public health professional can offer. Without an engineer or designer, they would not be aware of what technology is realistically available, and come up with a product that is obtuse, or create a product that is difficult to sell to investors or broader users.
USAID has a focus on innovation in global health at the Center for Innovation and Impact, which applies business-minded approaches to the development, introduction and scale-up of health interventions to accelerate impact against the world’s most important health challenges. What role have you seen innovation play in your work in procurement at USAID’s Global Health Supply Chain – Procurement and Supply Management Program?
In the Global Health Supply Chain – Procurement and Supply Management Program, we have many innovative activities, using private sector technologies to manage supply chains. A few examples are supply chain control towers (VAN – Visibility and Analytics Networks) that provide end-to-end data visibility, supply chain optimization tools and temperature monitoring and sensors that track temperature and humidity in order to prevent product degradation. We have also looked at unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to explore possibilities to transport health commodities and lab samples in rural settings and integrate them into existing health supply chain systems.
As an innovator with a background in global public health, what advice do you have for other innovators who are hesitant to participant in a Hack-a-thon or Solutions Sprint because they may not have expertise in technology or engineering?
After every hack-a-thon, I always swear it will be my last. It’s exhausting to discuss health challenges and solutions in a very intense weekend, especially when we don’t always know enough about the issues we are working on. But every time a hack-a-thon registration opens, I think of how much I enjoy seeing ideas and how they evolve (through many team internal disagreements) over the weekend. I also always learn so much about a health challenge, and although it’s always a process of putting myself outside of my comfort zone, at the end of the event, it’s always extremely rewarding when you see your team’s final presentation.
CAMTech is launching the SheSolves initiative to empower women and girls in the global medtech startup ecosystem. What challenges have you faced or seen as a woman innovating early-stage health solutions in the startup ecosystem?
I think as a woman that has spent some time in Boston and Washington DC, we are quite lucky that there are so many opportunities out there to participate in the medtech startup space. It’s also encouraging to me that from my experience, there hasn’t been too much lack in female representation in the events I’ve attended so far. But I can see how women in a developing world would need more encouragement and environment that cultivate their voices, to express themselves and see how their point of views become a core part of the solution. I hope that I can have more opportunities working with women in the global health space, and to design more digital solutions for health challenges in the future.
Register for the Empire State Opioid Epidemic Innovation Challenge Demo Day on the CAMTech Innovation Platform (CIP)