ECE Team Brings Winning Care to Microsoft Competition


July 11, 2005

Sometimes great ideas come in unexpected places and opportunity follows a crisis. Such was the case for ECE classmates Mark Pimentel and Andy Shen and recent alumnus Bryan Chen (M.S. and B.S. 2005) who developed a better information system for healthcare professionals for Microsoft's Software Design Invitational (SDI) after Mark had an emergency appendectomy and discovered the need for smarter care. Back on campus, Mark remembered the problems of his hospital stay: he saw that patient calls weren't always answered quickly, it was difficult to transfer his records to his doctor at home, and one evening his dinner didn't come. Factoring in these experiences, the three students answered a challenge to use Microsoft® NET Framework and .NET Web services to create a mobile application that dissolves the boundaries between people through smart technology. The group's solution, SmartCare, is a healthcare platform that provides easy, more-secure sharing of patient information without the need to replace the existing information technology infrastructure.

"We thought that it would be interesting to build a system that could more effectively disseminate information among the different workers in the hospital-- from receptionists at the desk, to nurses at the point of care," said Mark. "This project would be technically-challenging, but could also impact many people in a meaningful and life-altering way."

After winning $1,000 for their project in a regional competition, the group was qualified to enter the U.S. National Imagine Cup SDI at Microsoft's corporate campus in Redmond, Washington. There, they took home the second place trophy and $4,000, competing against over 80 students in 30 teams from more than 25 top research and technical schools across the country. Another team from Carnegie Mellon also went to nationals: Information Networking Institute students Vishakha Gupta, Rahul Iyer, Abhinav Mishra, and Amber Palekar. They developed CruiseControl, a software framework that uses sensors to compute less congested routes for commuters.

"The students at this year's Imagine Cup represent the next generation of technology and business leaders. Each of them has created an application that demonstrates the power of technology in solving real-world problems," said Morris Sim, senior director of the Academic and Developer Community Group in the Servers and Tools Division at Microsoft. "Their creativity and innovation is inspiring, and speaks a magnitude about the future of technology."

Heinz School Professor Rema Padman, who advised the SmartCare team, explained that information technology is increasingly set to play a critical role delivering and administering health care, adding that a key issue involved is sharing confidential health information securely and easily. "Andy, Mark, and Bryan tackled this important and very challenging problem in a complex setting while climbing a steep learning curve to pick up relevant details about the domain," she said. "They devised a solution that was both technically proficient as well as economically viable since it did not require wholesale changes to the existing information technology infrastructure."

SmartCare relies on the Health Level Seven (HL7) and Continuity of Care Record (CCR) electronic medical record standards. Doctors and nurses can login to an online system to add and retrieve patient information, search, and correspond with a national network of healthcare providers. Andy worked mainly on the SmartCare Web Portal, which uses SSL and a role based security policy to ensure that patient information remains confidential. ASP.NET, ADO.NET and XML Web services create the Web interfaces necessary to interconnect the medical databases. Bryan designed the name hierarchy system, a framework for hospitals to plug into a nationwide SmartCare network.

A SmartCare Task Scheduler, running on Microsoft Windows Mobile™ 2003 software for Pocket PC handhelds, provides the tools to more efficiently manage appointments, task related information, and communication. This feature, developed by Mark, allows a patient's medical records to be analyzed alongside dynamic feeds of vital signs and other monitoring information and provides hospital wards with improved tracking, alert, and error-reporting services. The scheduler uses Visual C#® under the .NET Compact Framework 1.1.

Now in its third year, the annual Imagine Cup technology competition is designed to provide an outlet for students to explore technological and artistic interests outside the classroom. At the nationals, one of Virginia Commonwealth University's teams came in first-place and will represent the U.S. in the worldwide finals in Yokohama, Japan. This year's third place winners came from Northeastern University. Judges from around the nation come from a variety of backgrounds, such as academia, industry and government.

"Several interested judges contacted us after the competition to let us know they'd like to help us move the project further," Bryan said. "This was a great learning experience in Microsoft .NET technologies and applying it to a real world problem."

"Microsoft did a great job in hosting Imagine Cup," reported Mark. "We've gained several contacts through the program, and hope that we can further the SmartCare idea with their help."

Andy agreed: "I enjoyed working on our project tremendously, meeting other students from around the country, and seeing what exciting projects they were working on." An intern this summer with the BizTalk® group at Microsoft, the ECE senior is interested in embedded systems and computer architecture. Last Spring he was a teaching Assistant for 18-447: Introduction to Computer Architecture, and he won a judge's choice award from Lockheed Martin in the "Meeting of the Minds" undergraduate research symposium this May with ECE classmate Arun Penmetsa.

Mark encourages more students to participate in the Imagine Cup next year. Interning with Accenture this summer, the senior in ECE and business administration hopes to pursue a career in technology consulting. His favorite areas include Web applications and computer security, and he enjoys graphic design and historical novels. He hails from New York City and was nominated for Student Employee of the Year in 2004 for his work on the Office of International Education website.

Bryan accepted a position with Google Inc. after graduating last May with degrees in ECE and CS. His interests lie in algorithms and machine learning and he programs competitively through TopCoder. He competed with the Carnegie Mellon Dragons in the Association for Computing Machinery's International Collegiate Programming Contest (ACM-ICPC), a regional "battle of the brains" sponsored by IBM last November. A resident of Los Angeles, Chen loves the West coast and playing piano.

Portions of this article were compiled with information used with permission from The U.S. National Imagine Cup 2005 Software Design Invitational Virtual Pressroom.

Bryan Chen, Andy Shen, and Mark Pimentel developed SmartCare, a platform that allows healthcare providers to share patient information through an easy-to-use and secure network, and took home second place and $4,000.

Bryan Chen and Andy Shen (in foreground) run a demonstration of SmartCare while Mark Pimentel discusses the application with Microsoft employees at the project fair.

Rema Padman

Mark Pimentel

Andy Shen

Bryan Chen