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How makers are 'hacking into hospital supply closets'

From helping humans live longer and hacking our performance, to repairing the body and understanding the brain, WIRED Health will hear from the innovators transforming this critical sector. Read all of our WIRED Health coverage here.

Medical devices can be inspiring – but they can also be intimidating. That's why Anna Young, of MIT's MakerHealth, is trying to bring innovation into hospitals. 

"There's another side of medical devices," Young told the audience at WIRED Health. "Bandages, tapes, scissors [...] I consider myself a medical device archaeologist. I want to take these tools apart, understand how they work."

Young's work was inspired by an expedition she took to Nicaragua. In a hospital she visited, Young saw a nurse quietly hand cutting glasses for patients undergoing phototherapy treatment. It highlighted to Young the "stealth network" of medical device research and development – something she describes as "hacking into hospital supply closets". 

"There are hundreds of nurses who aren't only making – they're inventing," she explains.

Through her work, Young has also identified the factors that drive this innovation. One such factor is shock – a natural or manmade disaster, for example, or a financial shock – which inspires workers to respond quickly to acute problems.

Young feels passionately that the development of these tools should take place at the site of care. MakerHealth has already launched its first hospital making space, at UTMB Health in Texas, giving healthcare professionals a range of materials and tools. The suite includes a 3D printer, hand tools, laser cutters and an entire station for fluid management. 

The suite isn't just a workspace – it's an "operating system". People who visit the space are coached and mentored, incrementally moving through the prototyping process. Patients also take part in the process, which can be an empowering part of treatment, says Young.

"They are creating solutions that could dramatically improve healthcare," she says.

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