Many people experience frustration around healthcare-related issues, but most of them don’t have the opportunity to help solve those problems—unless they live in the state of Illinois, that is.

Starting November 1, 2019, all Illinois residents are invited to submit ideas for improving human health to the second annual Illinois Health Make-a-Thon competition. The 10 best ideas will each be supported by $10,000 in Health Maker Lab resources to create a real prototype of their idea.

Carle Illinois College of Medicine created the competition with the goal of democratizing health innovation. Marty Burke, associate dean of research at Carle Illinois, said that the people with the best ideas are often not trained scientists, but citizens who live with health issues day after day. 

“We’re empowering people to get involved in the quality of their own care by saying we believe that everyone has good ideas and we want to hear them,” said Professor Burke, who refers to such people as ‘citizen scientists’. “Literally anyone with an idea for improving human health has a chance to access our maker lab resources where our experts will guide them through concepting, designing, making, failing, and trying again.

Amaury Saulsberry, who submitted a winning idea to the first Health Make-a-Thon, has been working with the Health Maker Lab network to move his “smart pacifier” from concept toward reality. Saulsberry said his idea was sparked after watching his baby brother suffer with undiagnosed gastro reflux disease for the first three months of his life. 

“Doctors usually just see what’s happening with the baby in the office, not at home,” said Saulsberry. “The smart pacifier will record vitals like a baby’s temperature and pH levels so doctors get information more efficiently and can see levels over time.” 

While the first-ever Health Make-a-Thon was open only to ideas submitted by Champaign County residents, this year’s competition invites all residents of Illinois to participate. As part of the first state-wide event, the University of Illinois Extension offices across the state will engage in friendly competition to see which of the 27 units represents the greatest number of submitted ideas. 

“The Health Make-a-Thon is an innovative way to get community members involved in envisioning the future of healthcare and taking charge of their own health outcomes,” said Illinois Extension’s Director Shelly Nikols-Richardson. “Illinois Extension supports approaches that empower individuals in identifying existing problems and coming up with creative solutions to make living better.”

Idea submissions will be accepted between November 1, 2019, and January 6, 2020. Finalists will be notified in February 2020, and ten winners will be chosen at the Health Make-a-Thon event March 28, 2020. To learn more about the Health Make-a-Thon and to submit an idea, visit the Health Maker Lab website