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UC Students Enter Global Contest Seeking to Redesign Child Health Records

A small group of UC students recently took a shot at winning an international competition aimed at improving child health records, all in an effort to save young lives around the world.

Date: 11/26/2013 9:30:00 AM
By: M.B. Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: Elizabeth Freeman and Mary Knight

UC ingot   Good records are the bedrock of childhood health when it comes to immunizations.
View of a health record with a lanyard attached.
View of a proposed health record with a lanyard attachment.

However, in many parts of the world, it’s currently difficult for both parents and medical care providers to create, maintain and preserve easy-to-use records on behalf of their young patients. And that can have tragic consequences when vaccinations are missed.

In order to help change that, a group of eight graphic communication design juniors in the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP) recently worked with Assistant Professor Emily Verba to create designs for a sturdy immunization “health passport,” submitting their collective design to the international “Records for Life” contest sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

According to Verba, the goal was to create a design that could consist of multiple versions: “a bare-bones version that could be produced cheaply in countries where poverty is more prevalent as well as a version with more amenities if you will, such that it would still prove appealing in countries with more-developed economies.”

In other words, she explained, a modular system where a protective sleeve or an attaching lanyard could be added to increase durability or retention by a child or parent.

The students examined a number of materials in their effort to create the best possible options, including paper made of Tyvek, a durable synthetic material that is water resistance (and often used as a “wrap” to provide a water barrier between the outer cladding of a structure and a building frame).
View of a health record with a waist band.
View of a proposed health record with a waist band.

According to student Mary Knight, 21, of Price Hill, the final design “needed to withstand sand, oil, water, dirt and a lot more. We wanted something that can’t be torn since it’s got to be able to last at least five years.”

In hearing from medical providers who have worked to deliver immunizations in Africa, Central America and elsewhere, Knight explained, “The doctors we’ve heard from say the clients will bring in records that are torn, that are extremely weathered or even in bits and pieces, shambles.”

For that reason, the students also looked to create a “health passport” book with a cover of thick plastic, where the plastic “cover” could also serve as something of a clip board, providing a secure base for writing.

Their main goals were
  • Provide medical care professionals with a clear space to mark a chart as to immunizations received and when.
  • Provide a clear means for communicating the next appointment or availability for upcoming or follow-up immunizations, as well as a space to write any pertinent notes.
  • Create an item of value for the mothers that was easy to preserve and transport.
    Vaccination information being recorded.
    Recording of vaccination information.

“The needs and the constraints mean their have been a lot of moving pieces and parts to the project. We’ve had to prioritize the needs and how possible solutions might fit into a comprehensive solution in the end. And we’ve been working with a tight deadline,” explained student Melinda Sekela, 21, of Cleveland, Ohio.

And though these needs brought challenges, classmate Christina Coobatis, 21, of Canton, Ohio, appreciated the possibility for a real-world payoff: “Our work could have real-world consequences. It could affect people’s lives and possibly be implemented.”

Ayan Daniels, 21, of Clifton, agreed, “The best part of participating in this studio is that those of us working on this project really care about this. We are committed and passionate about using design to help people. This could make a real difference, and we’re treating is as such.”

The “Records for Life” competition may result in top designs being selected for pilot implementation in up to 10 countries by 2018.
Health record app.
One proposal would allow a doctor to open a health-record app to update digital immunization records.

Assisting the students and Verba with the project have been DAAP design faculty who have worked abroad as well as Lea Widdice, MD, UC assistant professor of pediatrics and director of the adolescent medicine fellowship program at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.