Jose Gomez-Marquez Wants to Turn Doctors and Nurses into Makers

Kennedy Center president Deborah Rutter interviews the co-founder of MIT’s Little Devices Lab about democratizing health technology

Jose Gomez-Marquez admits he’s a horrible cook.

“But none of us show our credentials when we walk into the supermarket,” he told his interviewer Deborah Rutter, president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and the audience gathered at “The Long Conversation,” a Smithsonian event that brought together 25 thinkers for an eight-hour relay of two-person dialogues at the Arts & Industries Building in Washington, D.C. last December.

The point he was making is that no matter our culinary skills, we all have access to food and an open invitation to give cooking a try.

So how can we create a culture where more people have access to health technology?

If Gomez-Marquez’s analogy holds any weight, it’s simple. “You create a culture where you give everybody permission to do it,” he said.

As the co-director of the Little Devices Lab at MIT, Gomez-Marquez works with a team of engineers and biologists to design tools to empower people to invent their own medical technologies. His group has developed a series of MEDIKits (Medical Education Design and Invention Kits) with simple components that allow nurses and doctors to fashion their own equipment. They’ve also created a system, called Ampli blocks, that consists of modular “plug and play” blocks that can be linked together in different ways to build diagnostic devices. In addition to these toolkits, the lab is working to establish medical maker spaces in hospitals, where doctors and nurses can do “just-in-time inventing”—basically, a place where they can invent something useful for a patient, then go back and treat that individual.

The idea for the Little Devices Lab came out of work Gomez-Marquez was doing in developing countries. He bore witness to the fact that 90 percent of medical devices in the developing world are donated and fail within six months, while an “army of frontline health inventors” are quietly making their own devices to solve many problems.

“We took that inspiration and we said how do we systematize it, how do we spread it as a culture, so that everybody can do this?” said Gomez-Marquez.

Mark your calendars for this year’s “Long Conversation,” which will bring an impressive group of scientists, musicians, inventors, tech CEOs and others together on December 7, 2018. Watch it on livestream here.

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