Hacking health care
Hacking health care

Hacking health care: PhD student Andrea Ippolito improves health care through engineering, entrepreneurship, and systems design.

From MIT News Office, November 19, 2014

For as long as she can remember, Andrea Ippolito has known that she wanted to be an engineer.

What she couldn’t have predicted was what, precisely, the scope and scale of her work would turn out to be.

Ippolito began her career at Boston Scientific after getting bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biomedical engineering from Cornell University. Back then, she worked on drug-coated medical devices and studied how they interfaced with the surrounding cells of a patient.

She liked working on those systems, but also began fostering an interest in health care engineering on a more macroscopic scale: Rather than one device, one human, or one interface, Ippolito wanted to look at the entire health care ecosystem.

“I was drawn into the strategy of the technology as well as the technology,” she says.

It was that newfound fascination that brought her to the MIT System Design and Management (SDM) program in 2011, and then to the Engineering Systems Division (ESD) PhD program in 2013. Today, Ippolito is a second-year graduate student in ESD, expecting to earn her PhD in 2017.

Ippolito’s initial research focused on the use of “telehealth” — treatment via video chat — and in particular on the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) within military health systems. The problem is that when members of the military return from deployment, they often do so in large numbers. As a result, the health care providers that administer PTSD screenings are overwhelmed with work.

Telehealth treatment could make it easier to spread out workloads for overall better care and more predictable scheduling. It could also enable the standardization of certain health care best practices, a boon for a complex health care network like that of the U.S. military.

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