EmergeNeed Wins Treehacks 2022: How an ECE Master’s Student is Shaping the Future of Medical Diagnosis

Shreya Verma is a Master of Applied Science student in the UBC Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, who has worked with the UBC Faculty of Medicine and Vancouver General Hospital to develop algorithms to detect skin cancer in its early stages. After being diagnosed herself with a potentially fatal tumor, and her recovery from her diagnosis, Shreya was inspired to pursue a research career in the field of early medical diagnosis. Shreya is also passionate about biomedical AI and is currently developing a deep learning algorithm to detect sepsis in infants in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. As part of the team, Shreya’s project EmergeNeed has won the Treehacks 2022 Covid Challenge and Sponsor’s Challenge, which we were excited to connect with her about to learn more about her story.

Read on to learn more about EmergeNeed, Shreya’s experience in our ECE department, and some great advice from her for any students currently looking for help or facing difficulties or mental health concerns in their programs.

Can you tell me a bit about EmergeNeed?

EmergeNeed addresses three main areas of healthcare improvement. To begin, there is no easy way for an individual to know how crowded a hospital will be at a given time. Especially in the current pandemic environment, users would benefit from information such as crowd level and estimated travel times to different hospitals near them. Knowing this information would help them avoid unnecessary crowds and the risk of COVID19 exposure, receiving faster medical attention and an enhanced treatment experience. Additionally, such a system allows hospital staff to operate more effectively and begin triaging earlier since they will receive a heads-up about incoming (non-ambulance) patients before they arrive.

Moreover, online information is often unreliable, and specific demographics may not have access to a primary care provider to ask for advice during an emergency. Our interface allows users to access on-call tele-network services specific to their symptoms easily and therefore receive advice about options such as monitoring at home, urgent care, or an emergency hospital.

Finally, not knowing what to expect contributes to the elevated stress levels surrounding an emergency. Having an app service that encourages users to actively engage in health monitoring and providing tips about what to expect and how to prepare in an emergency will make users better equipped to handle these situations when they occur. Our dashboard offers tools such as a check-in journal to log their mood gratitudes and vent about frustrations. The entries are sent for sentiment analysis to help monitor mental states and offer support. Additionally, the dashboard allows providers to assign goals to patients and monitor progress. For example, taking antibiotics every day for 1 week or not smoking. Furthermore, the user can track upcoming medical appointments and access key medical data quickly such as their COVID19 vaccination card, immunization forms, and health insurance.

What inspired you to create EmergeNeed?

“Emergency” + “Need” = “EmergeNeed”

Imagine a pleasant warm Autumn evening, and you are all ready to have Thanksgiving dinner with your family. You are having a lovely time, but suddenly you notice a batch of red welts, swollen lips, and an itchy throat. Worried and scared, you rush to the hospital just to realize that you will have to wait for another three hours to see a doctor due to the excess crowd. This is exactly what inspired us to create EmergeNeed.

Now imagine that you could quickly talk to a medical professional who could recommend going to urgent care instead to treat your allergic reaction. Or, if you were recommended to seek emergency hospital care, you could see the estimated wait times at different hospitals before you left. Such a system would allow you to get advice from a medical professional quickly, save time waiting for treatment, and decrease your risk of COVID exposure by allowing you to avoid large crowds

How do you feel about having EmergeNeed win Treehacks’ 2022 Covid Challenge and Sponsor’s Challenge?

I had applied to be a part of TreeHacks 3 years ago and I was not selected. So this year to be not only selected but also to win the challenge feels surreal! Sounds cliché, but I am glad I didn’t give up. From team building to presenting my project to 50+ people, it  was a great experience. It was a bummer that I could not attend it in-person, but I definitely will next year! A friend of mine told me during grad school small wins are important and this win came at the time I needed it the most.

Why did you choose to study at ECE?

I was diagnosed with a potentially fatal tumor which majorly impacted me physically and mentally. However, it also led me to the brilliant acknowledgment that timely and good quality treatment had saved my life. It was at that moment that I decided to study and explore the field concerning early diagnosis of medical irregularities,playing my role as a mindful engineer by contributing to saving lives. This led to me to apply for the Visiting International Research Student position offered by UBC. I worked with the Faculty of Medicine and Vancouver General Hospital to develop algorithms to detect skin cancer in its early stages. My time here made me realize that there is no better place than the ECE department at UBC to work towards my goals.

How does your career path and graduate experience connect to your current position?

I was always fascinated with Biomedical AI. Currently, I am currently a part of Dr. Guy Dumont’s research team at BC Children’s Hospital. My team and I are working on the estimation of respiratory rate and heart rate of infants in the Neonatal Intensive Care unit using RGBD data. I have learnt alot about my field by taking exceptional courses offered by professors at UBC,  such as Advanced Machine Learning, Trustworthy Machine Learning, and Deep Learning in Digital Media, to name a few.

What advice do you have for students who may be struggling or feel as though they are not doing enough?

Just three words –  Hang in there. I started my Masters during COVID in September 2020. I didn’t know anybody and was too shy to reach out to other students over Zoom. I felt I was not doing well in terms of academics, research, basically just letting everyone down. On top of that, living in such an expensive place as Vancouver is stressful, especially when you are an international student. I am sharing this so that I can let my peers or even incoming grad students know that it is okay to feel that you are not enough and that everyone goes through this phase. I have always relied on UBC Applied Science counseling services  when I feel overwhelmed (https://students.engineering.ubc.ca/health-and-wellness/). Another thing that helped me is being a part of the ECEGSA. I met so many fellow grad students and also organized fun activities like skiing at Grouse mountain, coffee socials, and a board game night! I truly believe “One day you will tell your story of how you overcame what you went through and it will be someone else’s survival guide” and that is what I am striving for.

What are you looking forward to in the future?

I am right now working towards finishing up my Masters. With that I am also preparing for job interviews (so A LOT of Leetcode). I am very inspired by a fellow graduate student that made it to Forbes 30 under 30, and that is what I am working towards!

What are some of your favorite activities to help you unwind while you’re working or studying?

I am an outdoor person! I am out hiking or skiing every other weekend! I love playing basketball, so I am also found on the court very often.