April 25, 2022

UCalgary nursing and engineering students work together on real-world challenges

Multidisciplinary hackathons seen as gateways to future collaborations
Nursing and engineering students work together at a recent UCalgary hackathon. Cathy Le

Confined to a bed, some long-term care patients are unable to move or shift their weight when their bodies become uncomfortable.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the U.S., bedsores occur in more than one in 10 residents in nursing homes.

While many have questioned how preventable these types of injuries are, the jury is seemingly out on the exact number.

It was one of the many health-care issues that engineering and nursing students at the University of Calgary teamed up to tackle at a recent hackathon put on by Dr. Linda Duffett-Leger, PhD, of the Faculty of Nursing, and Schulich School of Engineering Software Engineering Chair Dr. Mohammad Moshirpour, PhD’16.

An all-encompassing app

Each team, consisting of nurses and software engineers, was tasked with using technology to solve a real-world problem.

One group took on the challenge of pressure ulcers by developing a persona-assistant application to schedule and keep track of position changes. Team members were Brandon Attai; Daud Sheikh, BSc (Eng)’18; Tahsin Chowdhury; Kelten Falez; and Behnaz Sheikhi.

“We aimed for our solution to have an intuitive and easy-to-use interface while conveying the necessary information that either a health-care aide or patient would need to reduce the risk of pressure injuries,” Attai says.

The team added features like log-in and authentication, an interactive patient catalogue, nutrition, hydration, and skin-assessment logging and tracking with real-time data visualizations.

The efforts earned the team a first-place finish in the Health-Care Innovation category.

Changing communication systems

The second category up for grabs during the March 5 event was Software Implementation, won by a team consisting of Annamaria Mundell; Rohinesh Ram; Emily Wang; Kody Kou, BSc (Eng)’20; Sarang Kumar, BSc (Eng)’17; Osman Yaseen, BSc (Eng)’17; Hamza Luqmanand Trent Moser.

They created an application that is a voice-activated, automated enhanced notification system that communicates between emergency medical services and emergency triage nurses.

Mundell says under current systems, paramedics have to stop their patient care to make a menu-based phone call to a triage desk and wait for a nurse to answer, while triage nurses have to stop what they are doing to answer the call and transcribe the information.

It’s just how it has always been done, but time is precious in emergencies. This transfer of information needs to be easily accessible for timely and proficient communication promoting minimal time away from the patient.

Using speech-to-text for voice recognition and text-to-speech for voice dictation, the team wanted to reduce the communication workload, minimize interruptions and improve accuracy of the information.

Hard work pays off

The hackathon proved to be a whirlwind for all teams, and included being analyzed by two sets of judges: registered nurses and software engineers.

For the winners, they were humbled and excited by the experience.

“It was quite an interesting experience for us as this was the first time we acted in the roles of ‘software consultants’ — talking to an external group with a non-technical background, developing an understanding of the problem and brainstorming various solutions with the goal of developing working software,” Attai says.

Mundell says her team was ecstatic that their hard work paid off, but also awestruck to see how a researched clinical problem could transform from an idea into a winning solution.

“Through collaborations, the hackathon showed us how to bridge the gap between the problem and the solution, and how important the concept we’re trying to execute for emergency communication is to providers and patients,” she says. “Winning showed us that other people recognize that software technology has great value for health care.”


That value is what Moshirpour and Duffett-Leger hoped to highlight in this event, and will look to leverage in future hackathons.

“The unique thing about this event is that it was built into our graduate courses in nursing and engineering and, as such, is a novel approach to interdisciplinary education and digital innovation,” Moshirpour says.

While nursing and engineering might appear to be very different disciplines, Duffett-Leger says they have one common goal: solve problems.

“These real-world issues are complex and require interdisciplinary collaborations in order to realize better health outcomes and a more sustainable system of care,” she says. “Nurses understand the gaps in the health-care system, and working together with engineers, they can build effective solutions to bridge this divide.”