There is no shortage of healthcare app hackathons and contests these days, but the William Osler Health System in Brampton, Ontario, wastes no time in getting its contest's winning apps into the hands of patients and caregivers right away.

Susan deRyk, vice president of patient experience, communications, and strategy at Osler, said the system's approach to involving technology students in diving right into solving contemporary problems has gained attention from other industries.

"Since we launched the contest last year, we have received a number of questions and have been asked for advice – not within the healthcare space, but from other businesses, as to how we've done it," deRyk said. "It is seen as innovative. It is different in that the winner was announced and the app went live immediately. It's been patient tested and staff tested and it is actually in use currently."

The winner of the second annual Osler national student app contest, announced late in May, was created by a team of students from the nearby University of Toronto. Team Engage, as they call themselves, developed Osler Outpatient, a free Android app which team member Zack Fisch characterized as a semi-customized platform for post-discharge instructions for emergency department patients.

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The app contains information and instructions pertaining to 27 of the most common conditions Osler ED staff encounter at the system's Brampton Civic Hospital and Etobicoke General Hospital. The objective of making the app available is to help patients, who are often overwhelmed with not only recovering from whatever malady they may have, but also the torrent of post-care instructions, remember what they are supposed to do after they leave the ED – to go from "discharge to in charge," as the app's descriptive page on the Google Play store says.

The purpose, Fisch said, is to help reduce the amount of return visits to the ED. Using analytics built into the back end of the app, he said, will help both Osler and the team gauge its efficacy.

The contest also served a dual purpose in bringing a fresh perspective to the health system, and in inspiring Team Engage to continue its work. The Outpatient technology itself is now the intellectual property of the health system, but Fisch said the team, which includes himself, Cory Blumenfeld, Victor Chen, and Jerry Tang, has no intentions of calling it "one and done."

"For us, Osler Outpatient is just the beginning," he said. "We will be taking what we learned and we'll be building out a patient engagement platform, hopefully something we can spread to other care centers and other EDs around the city. It's a completely different product, but something we feel could really enhance current patient engagement practices in different care centers. We feel it's pretty meaningful and it's a noble goal, and that's where we'll be putting our efforts for the next little while."

deRyk said fostering student creativity and bringing the resulting product into use as soon as possible pays dividends for the health system as well as the competitors.

"It's really important, not just in terms of helping grow our patient experience portfolio, but also working with future leaders to improve the patient experience," she said. "They work to improve the system now. They are able to look at things very differently than folks who have been in the healthcare space for a long time."

Fisch said Team Engage's nascent platform will be able to be used on all major smartphone operating systems, and that the team has received a tremendous amount of credence through winning the contest he hopes will reap dividends.

"It's incredibly challenging for a startup to get into a hospital to get their product into the hands of patients, and the fact we've been able to do that through the hackathon has given us rapport with other care centers," he said. "They see that we have an application live on the Play store that's being used by William Osler, and they say 'OK, these people have proven themselves.' They are willing to give us a shot. Now it comes down to executing."

A video about the development of the app is available here.

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