Online consultations enabled doctors to interact with patients at a safe distance during lockdown, helping demonstrate the value of technology in healthcare. But this is just the start of a new era with the potential to deliver better, affordable services to more people, say James Gupta and Vaishnavi Sharma.

From a niche industry dedicated to building more powerful computers and networks, technology is now driving progress across every other sector, including medicine. It’s an exciting time for the next generation of doctors who have long adapted to using technology in their daily lives and recognise its potential to transform clinical practice. In fact, many medical students find that university gives them the perfect opportunity to explore the possibilities and develop their own ideas.

Vaishnavi (Vaish) Sharma is part of this wave. Vaish is a student at Hull York Medical School (HYMS) and treasurer of the HYMS Med Tech Society. "Med tech is the overlap between medicine and technology," she explains. "Being a member of Generation Z, I really have used technology my entire life but I really started to notice its applications as I grew older. It’s amazing to have all this knowledge at our fingertips: it’s made the world feel more unified and helped people learn and gain new skills."

Smartphones have democratised technology, believes tech entrepreneur Dr James Gupta. "Everyone has got these incredible computers in their pocket, be it patients or clinicians and that gives them access to something really powerful," he says. "Part of the appeal of Med Tech is using the technology people have to deliver better and more affordable healthcare to more people. A great example of this is a company called Peek which has developed a $5 plastic adaptor to a smartphone camera that is able to take better or equal quality retinal images to a $25,000 split lamp."

Like Vaish, James was interested in technology long before arriving at Leeds Medical School in 2011 and found an outlet for his coding skills in his second year. As he previously revealed to Student Notes, James and a friend used their spare time to create an intelligent online revision platform so they could practise questions and prepare for their exams. The app also proved a hit with fellow medical students and its runaway success took James’s career in a different direction. Since graduating in 2017, he has been working full time as CEO of Synap, also based in Leeds.

Acess MCQs with Synap

When Vaish started her medical degree in 2019, she was quick to find others who shared her interest in technology. "I discovered the Med Tech Society during Freshers’ Week," she remembers. "I was inspired to join by my experience during hospital internships in Dubai when I saw how technology played a part in almost every diagnosis and every treatment. I realised that at the rate the technology is developing, it will be even more prominent when I qualify so I thought joining the Med Tech Society would really help."

Established in 2018, HYMS Med Tech Society aims to increase the awareness of med tech and is open to students from all academic disciplines. "A mix of medics and non-medics brings other perspectives to the table," says Vaish. "If we limited the membership to medical students, it would probably take up too much time, whereas someone studying computer science or other engineering majors already know quite a lot about their field. As the saying goes, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and we can achieve more if others can bring their different opinions and perspectives to the topic at hand."

While it is relatively new, the Med Tech Society is actively involved in organising events. For example, it is hosting the next national med tech conference which will attract students from universities around the UK to network, listen to talks and take part in workshops. In addition, there are 'hackathons' where students get together to find a technological solution to a specific problem within a deliberately intense timeframe. "To take a random example, we might be creating an app or software to help people avoid getting diabetes," says Vaish. The team that comes up with the best product wins a prize and it’s up to them to decide whether to develop their concept. "Don’t forget that Facebook started off as an idea for students," she points out.

While not conceived at an organised hackathon, the early development of Synap highlights why medical schools are ideal environments for tech innovation. In James’s experience, the instant feedback from fellow students was particularly valuable in refining his revision app. "In tech start-ups, a lot of success is based on how quickly you can go from version one of your product to version 100. The more you can improve it and the more rapidly you can respond to user feedback, the sooner you are going to get to something that has mass market appeal. Businesses spend ages and a lot of money on focus groups but in the early days being a super-user of your own product and living with people who were also using it gave us a definite advantage."