Jose Gomez-Marquez likes to tell people that everyone can hack health, and he’s made a career of proving this true. He is a medical device designer at the Little Devices lab at MIT and a co-founder of LDTC+Labs LLC. When you Google him, the search results are basically a list of his awards and fellowships, and news articles lauding his penchant for innovation.
Now, this isn’t innovation in the buzz word-y, conference-speak sense. It’s innovation where if you give Gomez-Marquez an ink cartridge, he’ll turn it into a no-prick vaccine delivery machine, or if he picks up a bunch of coffee filters at the grocery store, some of those might become TB drug compliance urine test strips.
Having grown up in Honduras and coming from a family of medical professionals, Gomez-Marquez knows firsthand the limitations health workers face in low-income developing countries. Unlike in developed countries, if an essential part of a medical device breaks, there’s no repair person coming to fix it. In part because of his background, Gomez-Marquez adheres to the Do-it-Yourself (DIY) philosophy and recognizes that health workers in resource-constrained settings around the world are capable doing some of the best DIY work. In order to foster this behavior, he and his team at Little Devices have recently released a product called MediKit, a series of design building blocks that empower doctors and nurses in developing countries to invent their own medical technologies.
A group putting together a dual nebulizer using a foot pump at SwitchPoint 2013.
I had the pleasure of getting an in-depth look at the type of work he does when I attended his micro-lab session at the SwitchPoint conference hosted by IntraHealth in North Carolina. During this short hour and a half workshop, Gomez-Marquez provided us with a list of ingredients: a foot pump, two nebulizers, tubes, a splitter, scissors, and duct tape and told us to create a drug delivery device that would treat not just one, but two patients, suffering from an asthma attack. Before setting us loose, he gave us instructions to not only build the device, but to also create a language for replication.
Of course, once we started playing with the pieces, we completely ignored the second part of the instructions. It was so exciting to solve the puzzle. We got really into the experience of designing something useful and something that saves lives. But when it came to present our final devices and show off our ingenuity, we quickly realized how important the abandoned second part of the instructions were.