What are a designer, an engineer, a pharmacist and a biomedicine graduate doing in a hospital room? They’re Mireia Aleu, Marc Rafat, Eduard Guerrero and Maria Fernández and they want to innovate in health. These four fellows in the d·HEALTH Barcelona program, an initiative of Biocat to accelerate healthcare innovation in Catalonia, did a clinical immersion in cardiology at Hospital Sant Joan de Déu. There they identified unmet clinical needs that offer up opportunities to develop an innovative solution and create their own start-up. We interviewed them to hear all about the experience.
Marc Rafat: We came in ready to take the world by storm. The cardiology team has treated us really well. We’ve been in the operating room for open-heart surgeries, external consultation rooms, catheterization rooms, the ICU, and more. As it is the top pediatric hospital in Catalonia, they have really good cardiopediatric surgeons and we’ve seen complex and unique cases. It’s been quite a privilege.
Mireia Aleu: We were at a powerful hospital in terms of innovation and I felt like everything would be great and there wouldn’t be much we could do. But we saw things that don’t work. There’s always a niche where you can innovate. For example, in cardiopediatrics, large companies don’t want to get involved but the children have many problems because everything is designed for adults.
Mireia Aleu: I do, that’s very clear. I want to do something myself, without depending on large companies or anyone else. I believe in us. If we have a good idea, the money will come. We still have a lot of questions but we believe in this and are adjusting to the situation to do something that is viable on all levels.
Eduard Guerrero: We’ve analyzed projects from the previous years to see where they went wrong and what they did right. We’ve looked at the idea, procedure and costs for the hospital.
Maria Fernández: We have a huge challenge because cardiology uses a lot of technology and is the discipline with the most innovation. Plus, technology is dominated by three or four large companies.
Marc Rafat: Regulatory aspects in cardiology are highly complex. Large companies can take on these processes but for us, as a small group, it will be difficult to find a place on the market. It’s a challenge that both motivates and scares us.
Maria Fernàndez: It isn’t easy to find yourself with three people you’ve never met before who suddenly become the people you spend the most time with. We’re four completely different minds, different personalities, ages, life experiences and personal situations. What we share is the desire to do something that has a real impact and is useful, that changes patients’ lives. I studied biomedicine and the only option was a career in research. Research or die. I wanted to have more direct contact with patients.
Marc Rafat: I signed up for this program precisely for the practical side: it’s designed to generate business, not science, which means impact. My wife was very ill. She got sick and died. We want to create something that has an impact on health not only to make money but also to improve people’s lives. This is something we all agree on and strive for.
Maria Fernández: It really helped us manage the situation. We all work as a team from the moment we are born: we’re part of a family, we go to school, and you don’t realize it but when someone explains the basics of teamwork, you analyze yourself and others and become more aware of everything.
Mireia Aleu: It taught us basic things like how to listen. Do they teach you to listen at school? Never. They are things you’ve lived with all your life but never stopped to consciously put into practice. We will be able to use this throughout our lives.
Eduard Guerrero: We’re all used to working as a team but we’d never done so like this. In any company, there are leaders and a hierarchy, but here we’re all equals. We have total freedom and don’t know how we’re supposed to do things. We’re learning as we go.
Mireia Aleu: Another important thing for me has been the multidisciplinary classes covering a wide variety of topics, from design thinking to hospital management. We’re learning about many topics at the same time and we’ve met professors that trained to work in one sector and are now in another. That motivates me to think that, even though I’m a designer, I can find a place in the healthcare sector and be useful.
Maria Fernández: Yes, this program breaks with the stereotypes of the university. Normally having very different backgrounds is seen as negative because you don’t specialize in anything. But I disagree. I think you’re much stronger if you have more to offer in different areas. We have to open up more if we want to innovate.
Eduard Guerrero: One of the lessons I’ll take from the hospital immersion is the inter-professionalism there. In cardiology, there are many engineers that don’t have any problems communicating with the doctors. Doctors have always been seen as lone wolves, but I’ve seen they’re very willing to work with professionals from other areas if that will help their patients. This time has broken down some of the stereotypes I had. In the hospital, everyone wants what’s best for the patient. It’s a very positive atmosphere that encourages you to work towards this goal as well.