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ASU-developed app seeks to improve medical diagnosis process

ASU researchers' diagnostic app aims to improve doctor-patient relations.
Robert Yao used personal experience with misdiagnoses to inform breakthrough app
January 17, 2017

It can be tough getting an accurate diagnosis.

A recent report from the Institute of Medicine found that “most people will experience at least one diagnostic error in their lifetime, sometimes with devastating consequences.”

With this in mind, a team of researchers at SkySong, the ASU Scottsdale Innovation Center, has been working on an app that they hope will make things better. Founded by ASU alums Robert Yao and Neel Mehta, EpiFinder uses machine learning and artificial intelligence algorithms to help ensure more accurate diagnoses and treatments.

“One thing that’s so awesome about the application is that it’s very adaptive,” Mehta, who studied biomedical informatics at ASU, said. Mehta said doctors can search symptoms or use a checklist, making it comprehensive, fast and easy to use.

The app is geared toward doctors and not available to the general public. It’s being beta tested by a handful of doctors, including a Phoenix-based neurologist at the Mayo Clinic and an Austin, Texas-based epilepsy center, said Yao, who also studied biomedical informatics at ASU.

“Doctors are telling us, with all the technology that's coming out, it adds time to their day,” Yao said. “We made sure we built the app for them, to improve their workflow, so they’re not spending so much time entering data.”

He said he hopes that streamlined workflow allows doctors to spend more time “actually interacting with and listening to their patients.”

Their app, which has been under development for several years, is nearing the end of its first phase of live testing. They say it gets more accurate and comprehensive with each new diagnosis and that they hope to make updates and have a version that’s ready “to go to market” this quarter. The EpiFinder website is getting an overhaul as well, and will debut later this week.

The app has been used to help identify diseases including epilepsy. It didn’t get its name from the brain disorder that causes seizures, however. For conditions that are tough to identify, Yao said, the developers hope to help doctors and patients “find their epiphany.”

Yao came up with the idea for the app more 10 years ago when he was bedridden with a rare rheumatologic condition. At first, no doctor could figure out what was wrong.

“At that time, not only did I have the expertise,” Yao said, “but I had the motivation to figure it out myself.” Recognizing that not all patients would be in such a situation, he built what he calls a sort of “medical map” to help people with hard-to-diagnose symptoms.

“I very much had that similar experience that people who have gone through misdiagnoses have had,” he said.

After creating the model, Yao connected with Mehta at ASU. Mehta, who has an entrepreneurial background from trying to launch several tech startups, helped turn the map into an app that can diagnose thousands of diseases.

The app was selected by Seed Spot, a Phoenix-based social incubator that provided office space and mentoring. Soon after, EpiFinder was chosen to receive $20,000 in funding and support from ASU’s Edson program.

“As a part of ASU’s Edson program, we’ve been provided with a lot of opportunities, such as office space, mentorship, connections and grant funding,” Mehta said.

Lasat year, EpiFinder was awarded a $30,000 Flinn Foundation Bioscience Entrepreneurship grant from the Flinn foundation, a Phoenix-based grant making organization.

Today, EpiFinder is an app for iPads and iPhones that doctors can use to help with accurate diagnoses.

Doctors simply pull out the app, go through a checklist that allows them to account for each patient’s symptoms, and a list of possible diagnoses pops up, with a percentage of likelihood for each. Then, the ultimate diagnostic decision lies in the hands of the doctor.

“We’ve taken all this research,” said EpiFinder operations manager Harsh Patel, “and put it in the back end” — this way, “doctors don’t have to go through all that research themselves to come up with a diagnosis. We did the hard work for them.”

Emma Greguska

Reporter , ASU Now

(480) 965-9657

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NFL turns to Sun Devil for Super Bowl paint job

ASU's field painter is off to paint the Super Bowl field — for the 22nd time.
January 18, 2017

ASU facilities manager has painted the field for every NFL title game since 1996

With a little paint and a lot of footsteps, Peter Wozniak transforms a patch of green grass into a maroon-and-gold emblem that incites thousands of football fans.

Wozniak is in charge of painting the field at Sun Devil Stadium — a job he has done since he was student worker in the late 1980s.

And while creating 70-foot pitchforks is still a joy, he has been gratified to have his work displayed on the biggest football stage of all — the Super Bowl.

Wozniak leaves this week to begin painting the field at NRG Stadium in Houston for the Super Bowl, which will be his 22nd time working the big game. His efforts will be seen by more than 160 million people around the world when the game is broadcast Feb. 5.

Wozniak, the athletic facilities maintenance manager at ASU, has painted the field for every NFL championship since the 1996 Super BowlThe Cowboys beat the Steelers 27-17, and Diana Ross performed at halftime., which was held at Sun Devil Stadium. Brian Johnson, ASU’s athletic grounds facilities manager, has worked with Wozniak at most of them.

The 1996 Super Bowl at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe was the first time Pete Wozniak painted a Super Bowl field, and he has been doing it ever since. Photo courtesy of the Arizona Cardinals

“Super Bowl 30 at Sun Devil Stadium was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I was fortunate to be asked to do more,” Wozniak said. “We just keep the work ethic and don’t take it for granted. It’s great to represent ASU nationally.”

It takes three weeks for Wozniak and his team to organize the three trailers full of equipment and then paint not only the main field, but all the practice fields and rain covers as well as sites for the NFL Experience, the fan festival held during Super Bowl week. They typically work 70-hour weeks leading up to the game, and have to accommodate many hours of rehearsals by the halftime performers.

“They actually have 30 to 40 hours during game week doing their rehearsal, while each team only gets one hour the day before the game,” Wozniak said. “It’s kind of ironic. You’re there to play the game, but the halftime is its own event.”

Weather is sometimes a challenge. Wozniak’s team had to deal with snowy conditions at the 2014 Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.

“We worked on the end zones in big heated tents,” he said. “We had to bring our paint machines into the tents because the paint was freezing. We blew and shoveled and plowed the snow so they could practice.”

The cold wasn’t unfamiliar, as Wozniak is originally from New York, transferring to ASU as a student in 1986.

“I signed on to work T-shirt security. And I was looking for more work, and I got more hours to do this,” he said of field painting. “It was a fun job, and you could see the results of your work every day.”

He stayed on after graduating, and now painting the field is a tiny — but glamorous — part of what he does. 

Video by Ken Fagan/ASU Now

“Right now, I have students packing clay at the softball field, but that’s not as exciting as painting the football field,” said Wozniak, who is in charge of the stadium, the practice fields and the soccer, lacrosse, wrestling and softball facilities.

The summer after he painted the field for the 1996 Super Bowl, the NFL asked Wozniak to go to Monterrey, Mexico, to do the field for a game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Dallas Cowboys. That led to jobs at the subsequent Super Bowls and dozens more international games. He has traveled to Mexico City, Tokyo, Sydney and London.

Not too much has changed over the years.

“The football field still has white lines, numbers, hash marks. We do more branding now,” said Wozniak, who grids out the end-zone designs on graph paper.

“We’ve learned ways to make our jobs easier — what type of paint to use, painting tips and the sequence of events, so we’re more efficient,” he said.

“It requires a steady hand and patience. You can’t be rushed when you do it.”

Wozniak said that because he has more people and more time, he’ll get to be more precise with the Super Bowl field design. But otherwise, it’s similar to painting the pitchfork at Sun Devil Stadium.

“With either one, we want it to be perfect.”

Top photo: Pete Wozniak paints the pitchfork on the field at Sun Devil Stadium. He painted the field when the Super Bowl was held at Sun Devil Stadium in 1996 and has done the Super Bowl fields every year since. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now