Katja Kunicke

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Successful "makerthon" for healthcare solutions

Deutsche Telekom and Merck introduce a new interdisciplinary, cross-industry collaboration format.

Group picture of the makerthon participants.

Deutsche Telekom and Merck organize makerthon for digital healthcare solutions © Merck

Tackling innovation in the healthcare area with a different mindset and exploring new paths together: to develop new approaches to solving current challenges facing the healthcare sector, Merck, a life sciences and technology company, teamed with Deutsche Telekom to organize an interdisciplinary, cross-industry "makerthon". For three weeks, some 100 doctors, engineers, programmers, designers, and students worked at the Telekom Open Spaces in Bonn and the Merck Innovation Center in Darmstadt to develop new digital solutions for the healthcare sector. The participants formed eleven teams to tackle current challenges in the healthcare sector in a total of five activity areas, to develop the next generation of digital innovations in healthcare.

New solutions to the challenges of the clinical routine

Deutsche Telekom was particularly interested in how the Internet of Things can enable clinical staff to work more efficiently in the future. The teams focused specifically on clinical processes in care, both in direct patient care and logistics. "In light of the critical shortage of care staff and undersupply in general, it is high time to deploy intelligent concepts to change this situation. Doctors and care staff should be able to concentrate on working with their patients," emphasizes Christoph Meyer-Delpho from Telekom Healthcare Solutions, one of the business sponsors.

Many opportunities for creativity

The teams were able to go all out in developing their ideas; their drive and fantasy faced (nearly) no limits. The participants were able to draw on the concentrated expertise of both companies by taking part in workshops and coaching sessions. They also had access to hardware, such as sensor systems, as well as a collaboration platform set up specifically for the makerthon. "With this healthcare and IoT program, we developed a shared format, the likes of which have never been seen before," says Miralem Gazibegovic from Telekom Open Spaces, which hosted the makerthon together with the Merck Innovation Center. "The co-creation concept promotes ideas and solutions that would never have been created in corporate silos," adds Michael Lang.

Panel praised combination of expertise and pioneering spirit

The intensive collaboration paid off: on December 8, the eleven twelve teams presented their results during a pitch session at the Merck Innovation Center in Darmstadt. The teams gave it all one last time to win the judging panel over to their ideas. "The interdisciplinary approach was really worth it," says a pleased Meyer-Delpho. "All of the concepts demonstrated vision and a pioneering spirit." The most promising projects were recognized with cash and non-cash prizes. Thanks to the pooled expertise in medicine and technology, team members were able to focus tightly on the task at hand and develop functional prototypes in the short amount of time available.

Prizes reflect intensive efforts and hard work

Makerthon for digital solutions in healthcare.

Telekom and Merck organized makerthon for digital solutions in healthcare. © Merck

The judging panel awarded first prize to the "Lab3 & Friends" team for their prototype "VED4MS (Visual Evoked Diagnostics for Multiple Sclerosis)", which employs 5G to fight multiple sclerosis and predict relapses among MS patients in advance. The team won a bonus of 10,000 euros for its work. And this wasn't the only project to demonstrate the advantages of the interdisciplinary composition of the teams.

Second prize was awarded to the "HoLoX" team for an integrated, inexpensive Dash Button solution for hospitals, based on LoRaWAN, to avoid bottlenecks in the supply of critical materials and consumables. To develop their prototype, the team scrutinized the real needs in the medical industry and carried out surveys with potential users in hospitals with regard to the different use cases. As a result of their efforts, the team won one of the two special prizes awarded by Deutsche Telekom.

The "Game Changer Award" was won by the "Tims Digital Natives" teams for their health voicification approach, including integrated security, and iServiceCall, with its approach to sending more targeted alerts to care staff in hospitals. "There's a lot of potential in these ideas," says Meyer-Delpho. "It's impressive how far the teams were able to develop their concepts into business-relevant prototypes in the short amount of time they had. In particular, we will continue to support the next steps of the HoloX and health voicification teams in the coming months."
The "Need Identifier Award" was won by the "JuYaa" team. The participants developed a sensor-based approach to make the subjective complaints of fatigue patients measurable objectively.
The "Makers-by-heart Award" was won by the "T11" team, which impressed the judging panel with a credit card that has an integrated TAN generator. To build it, they employed newly developed materials from Merck. The inventors not only succeeded in creating a functioning prototype within the three weeks; they also made it accessible to blind users.

Looking ahead

Mark Nierwetberg, Senior Vice President Transformation Office and sponsor of the makerthon, also comes to a positive conclusion: "The past weeks clearly showed how inspiring it can be to go off the beaten track and tackle new ideas from many different directions. We at Telekom Open Spaces believe that networking, in particular, can unleash new creative potential. That's why we plan to use formats like this more often in the future, to develop solutions to the challenges that society faces."

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