Hacking our way to vaccine compliance: The birth of WhatVax

Gomez's team at work on a platform for vaccine tracking and orderingEva Gómez, RN-BC, MSN, CPN, is a staff development specialist in Clinical Education and Informatics 
at Boston Children’s Hospital. She and Tami Chase, RN, nurse manager at Martha Eliot Health Center, received the Springboard Prize from Boston Children’s Innovation Acceleration Program at last month’s Hacking Pediatrics.

For months, my colleague Tami Chase and I had been experiencing a big pain point in our patient-care process: the complicated and time-consuming task of ordering vaccines—a task that requires providers and nurses to memorize or figure out complex algorithms based on variables like patient age, ethnicity and medical/family history. There are many vaccines and formulations, and if vaccine supplies are used incorrectly, we are less able to order free vaccines from federal and state sources. We’re then forced to purchase vaccines privately—tapping hospital funds that could be used for many other worthy projects.

How could we make vaccine ordering easier? What vaccine do we use, and from which supply? People had tried everything they could think of to get providers and nurses to understand and learn the selection criteria. Colorful pictures and diagrams were taped to walls in conference rooms or got lost in a sea of papers on bulletin boards or above medication administration machines. Tami felt strongly that relying on busy providers and nurses was not a solution. At the end of each meeting, she would turn to me and say, “We need an app for that!”

And that’s how we got the idea for WhatVax?, a decision-making tool for vaccine compliance, and found ourselves pitching it at Hacking Pediatrics. We were overwhelmed, unsure and had some doubts we could pull it off, but at least we’d know we tried. It was showtime!

Tami Chase Eva Gomez at Hacking Pediatrics
Nursing innovators: Tami Chase (L) and Eva Gómez

We had an idea of what a hackathon was, but had never been to one. If we had any second thoughts about going, it was too late—no turning back now. We walked into the Microsoft NERD Center, as they call it, and our pulses started racing. The room was filled with people; some were familiar, but mostly new faces. We wrote, re-wrote and probably over-wrote our opening pitch and rehearsed it over and over. We wanted to make sure that, if nothing else, at least one person would be interested.

With some trepidation, we joined 36 others queuing up to pitch their pain points. After the pitches ended, we walked out of the main room into a crowd of people excitedly networking, hoping someone would want to work with us. Within an hour, we had a team of four join us to develop our solution!

As nurses, Tami and I don’t often get the opportunity to work with people from other disciplines or backgrounds outside of medicine. We had assumed our work is so unique that only few would understand it. Yet, as our team came together, we had perfect chemistry. We had two brilliant students from Olin College with experience in software development and web design.

We formulated a plan and divided the work. Everyone had a role to play and an important question to ask, and we respected each other’s valuable input and direction. Experienced entrepreneurs, developers, clinicians gave us phenomenal mentorship, advice and alternative viewpoints to consider. We were overwhelmed and exhilarated at the same time. Saturday passed in a flash—but we were close to completion by the time Sunday morning came around.

Counting down to our 2 p.m. presentation, we kept testing and re-testing and putting together our plan and our final pitch. We hit “send” to dispatch our final PowerPoint presentation at exactly the 1:30 p.m. deadline and stood by, nervous, hopeful and proud.

In all honesty, we never expected to win anything. Tami and I kept saying to each other, “The biggest win for us has been to just participate, to think and to learn from all these people. We will never forget it.”

And then the most amazing thing happened. As the award winners were announced, we heard our names called. “What? Did we hear that right?” It took more than a few minutes to realize what had happened: We did it—got our team, worked on our solution and picked up an award along the way.

Here’s what else we took away: Never underestimate your potential to find solutions to a problem. Connect with others, whether they are patients, parents, engineers or designers, and consider who can give you a unique point of view.

Instead of saying, “We need an app for that,” you could be the person who says, “Yeah, I made an app for that!”

For more information on WhatVax?, email Tami Chase, RN, or phone her at 617-919-7823.