Nursing, IST students win big in mHealth Challenge with apps designed for kids

November 19, 2015

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A diagnosis of Type I diabetes can be scary and confusing for kids. But a group of Penn State nursing and IST students has an idea to lessen the fear and confusion: use stories and games to teach even the youngest kids how to manage the disease.

Their idea — a mobile app called Invinsulin Kids — won first place in the mHealth Challenge, held Nov. 17 at Penn State's University Park campus.

Part of Global Entrepreneurship Week, the mHealth Challenge is an event in which undergraduate students from three academic colleges collaborate to develop low-fidelity prototypes for mobile health applications. Students from the College of Nursing and the Department of Biobehavioral Health in the College of Health and Human Development were teamed with students in the College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST). Each team was tasked with identifying a social health need associated with a specific target audience and then developing an app to address that need. Over a two-night period, the teams pitched their proposals to a panel of judges chosen for expertise in health care and business.

Vanessa Witmer, a senior nursing major, knew from her clinical experience with a school nurse that children in preschool and early elementary grades could perform simple tasks — even administering their own insulin injections — to manage their diabetes. She also knew that providing age-appropriate patient education is often a challenge.

“I have a friend who was diagnosed with diabetes at 16 months old but did not learn how to fully manage it until she was 20,” Witmer said. “That’s what we want to address with this app.”

Other team members were nursing students Alexandra Chimahusky and Emily Werner, and IST students Tyler Straffon and Terry Miles.

Designed for children ages 5 to 8, Invinsulin Kids uses a fun, interactive approach to teach kids basic self-care. Each participant creates a customized avatar that becomes a character in stories based on real-life scenarios, which teach kids how to monitor blood sugar and use insulin pens and pumps. The characters also appear in games called Treasure Hunt and Sugar Rush, which keep kids engaged while teaching them important concepts and techniques.

“The goal is to use a visual, age-appropriate approach to give kids the confidence and skills they need to manage their care independently,” said Witmer.

Teresa Dolan, a 1990 Penn State alumna and vice president of clinical operations and medical director for Accolade, served as a judge for the final pitch night. She agreed that Invinsulin Kids is “something children truly would embrace.”

“This shows tremendous potential for dealing with a significant public health problem,” Dolan said.

Although this was its first year participating in the challenge, the College of Nursing fared well in the competition, taking home third place as well as first. The third-place winner was GlutenXposed, another educational app designed for kids, but aiming to help those newly diagnosed with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that affects the small intestine. The team was composed of nursing students Alexandra DiAntonio, Gabrielle Maccariello and Caitlin Wetzler, and IST students Anand Bhagat and Jose Ponte.

Beth Cutezo, instructor in nursing and faculty adviser for the College of Nursing teams, said the students' participation was a great opportunity to learn more about utilizing technology in practice and work in a collaborative, cross-disciplinary capacity.

"We can use technology like never before to help educate clients and improve their health care outcomes," Cutezo said. "The importance of technology in advancing nursing care is just now being realized. Creative apps can provide a useful teaching tool to improve health care, and nurses will be expected to be tech savvy as they practice in a variety of clinical settings."

Last Updated November 19, 2015