Innovation is crucial to helping us solve some of the biggest issues in the field of infectious diseases. That’s why Javeed Siddiqui, MD, MPH, co-founder and chief medical officer of TeleMed2U and long-time supporter of the IDSA Foundation, created the IDea Incubator. The pitch-style competition brings together innovators across all fields and provides an opportunity for them to share their idea, product or concept that could improve the field of infectious diseases and patient care.
This year, the IDSA Foundation is proud to again collaborate with Johnson and Johnson Innovation – JLABS (“JLABS”) for the second year in a row to host the event with the aim of accelerating the development of potential solutions in the field of infectious diseases by empowering research and technology innovators.
We checked in with the 2020 IDea Incubator’s second place finalists Farrukh Jafri, MD, Medical Director of White Plains Hospital Cares, and Taylor Freeman, founder of Axon Park, to learn about their experience at the IDea Incubator and to see how they have progressed their innovation – PPE VR Training Simulator – since the competition.
How did you learn about the IDea Incubator and what made you want to apply?
FJ: We were actually implementing the technology in our hospital and reviewed the program with the head of our infectious diseases department. When he looked at it, he was eager to share it with his colleagues and asked if we had heard of the IDSA Foundation’s IDea Incubator competition. He encouraged us to apply. When I got back to my office, I saw it in my inbox and forwarded it to Taylor and said: “This sounds kind of interesting. We should consider applying.”
Coming from different backgrounds – entrepreneurship and emergency medicine – how did you both meet and why did you decide to create the PPE VR Training Simulator together?
FJ: Before COVID, I did a lot of community outreach focused on teaching high school students how to do CPR. I also provided hemorrhage control training to teachers. We ran a study with teachers and found that retention of skills was a problem, so we were thinking about using virtual reality as a potential tool. Through our hospital, we reached out to a couple of organizations, Taylor was one of them, to get a quote on how this program would run. Then, with COVID, I told these organizations it was no longer the right time to pursue virtual reality for hemorrhage control training. Taylor was the one who reached out to me and said, “Well, what can we do to help?” And that is how the PPE VR Training Simulator came into being. We created a virtual reality program to train people how to properly don and doff PPE.
Tell us more about how the PPE VR Training Simulator will impact health care and the field of infectious diseases.
TF: There are three main areas where we’ve seen real impacts. First is the increased accessibility. You just need a headset and hand controllers, and you can jump into the virtual world and practice these skills from anywhere, as long as you have a 5-by-5-foot space. The second benefit is reducing cost. When you look at traditional in-person training, you need a bunch of equipment, clinical instruction, physical space and all the costs associated. With virtual reality, you’re able to virtualize that entire experience and, again, just jump into the headset and do it from anywhere. We’re seeing tremendous cost savings. And finally, the thing that keeps coming up is having a safe space to practice. When people are practicing a skill for the first time, there is a lot of stress around being watched and having to perform under pressure. This tool gives people an opportunity to practice, get comfortable with the skill and then come into the environment and perform at a high level.
How have those using the technology reacted to the virtual reality training experience?
FJ: We’ve tried it with a large group of individuals, and the reaction is that people love it. People are blown away by the graphics, the imaging and the actual adaptability, which has been great. There are also people that are already looking at expanding what we’ve done into Ebola training and all sorts of other avenues where training in person is very high risk, expensive and equipment heavy.
How have the awarded funds allowed you to progress the PPE VR Training Simulator since last year’s competition?
TF: The winnings helped us to finance the development of a few additional features, specifically into the administrative portal. We have a whole dashboard for auditing and compliance and understanding the performance of users. We were able to build some new data analysis features. As for an update overall, we’re almost at 25 health care institutions using the platform, so that was a significant increase since the competition. I think we were at two or three then. The clinical trial to validate the efficacy of the program was a big step, as well.
FJ: In terms of its efficacy, we actually just completed a large research study at the Montefiore Medical Center, and we have finished the data analysis. We’re now writing it up for publication. We compared a control group, who used an online module that is currently the training standard for most hospitals, to a group that used VR training. What we found, especially among our emergency medicine residents, is that those using VR training scored much higher when donning and doffing PPE. That means they were less likely to make mistakes, and that was a significant result.
Do you have any advice for this year’s IDea Incubator participants on how they can make their virtual pitch impactful?
TF: My advice would be to demonstrate how the innovation is used in practice. That was the main feedback we received from the judges. Second, showing any live videos or demos of the experience is always a compelling and useful mechanism, especially when everyone is remote. Then, just practice the pitch and make sure it’s really tight.
What did you enjoy most about the 2020 Virtual IDea Incubator?
FJ: What I really liked about this program is it made us think hard about our model, specifically the business model and how we’re putting this all together. We had just a couple of short minutes to bring out the core elements of the virtual reality program, why we thought it was so important and how we’re planning on adapting it. The IDea Incubator competition forces you to put this all together in a narrow pitch. It was such a great motivator to make sure that we had a succinct, really powerful presentation and pitch that we could then also utilize for future pitches as we continued to progress our program.
It was a great introduction to this type of field. The judges were great. They were very open to meeting with us afterward and giving us feedback on our pitch. It was a very supportive environment. I also enjoyed listening to our fellow participants and hearing about their innovations. I think it was, overall, just a fantastic experience.
What would you say to other entrepreneurs and big thinkers to encourage them to apply to the IDea Incubator?
TF: The IDea Incubator shows that people are willing to put a stake in the ground to support your innovation. We actually got some great business from this. A very large institution in New York reached out and bought licenses and has been an incredible partner. He watched the competition and reached out immediately after. I think the network and being part of the community is definitely valuable for anyone who is in this space.
FJ: For anybody that has an idea, I think this is a great opportunity to get some notice, to market your product, to really help fine-tune what you’re doing and to get some expert advice, no matter where you fit into the final rankings. I also like the ground-up approach of the competition. We didn’t need to come in with a proven track record of multiple VR programs and a doctorate in virtual reality with several publications. You simply said: “Tell us your ideas, and we’re going to judge you based solely on the concept you put together.” And that is so powerful because there are so many people out there who have such great ideas, but they don’t have the backing, the support or the training to really put together a massive grant proposal. The IDea Incubator offers the average medical student or the average physician an opportunity to have their work showcased, it gives them credibility in what they’re doing, and it’s a powerful forum. It’s such a great opportunity. I think anybody and everybody should take advantage of it if they have a great idea.
Do you have an idea that could change the field of infectious diseases and improve patient care? Applications are open now through July 8 for the 2021 IDea Incubator hosted by the IDSA Foundation in collaboration with Johnson and Johnson Innovation – JLABS.
For more information about competition rules or to watch last year’s event, including Dr. Jafri and Taylor’s pitch, please visit www.idsafoundation.org/ideaincubator.