HEALTH CARE WORKERS ARE PROBLEM SOLVERS BY NATURE, says internist and pediatrician Kristian Olson. “People who don’t think of themselves as innovators have come up with remarkable solutions using totally unanticipated approaches,” says Olson, who has worked overseas developing affordable medical technology. Olson also heads MGH’s Springboard Studio, which looks for smart design ideas that arise from everyday interactions with health care.

One of those interactions—COVID-19 testing—was causing no end of headaches. A health care provider needed to interact safely with dozens or hundreds of individuals each day. In practice, this meant donning and doffing PPE frequently and sanitizing the entire testing area. When Mass General Brigham leadership asked Olson to devise a better approach, he looked at existing solutions and also drew on his own ingenuity.

Within nine days, Olson’s team, with help from Healthcare Innovation Partners LLC, had built a prototype of a testing booth with arm ports that allowed a provider to stand inside while performing a nasal swab test on the patient outside. He asked nurses, infection control experts and housekeeping staff to test-drive it. One user suggested arm ports on three sides of the booth so the tester could quickly move to the next patient while the previous bay got cleaned. Another asked for elliptical ports to accommodate different heights of testers and patients. “Ergonomics is important when you’re testing 200 patients per day,” Olson says.

The “Hexapod” dramatically shortened testing times—46 seconds per patient compared with the previous 10 minutes per test. In the booth, testers wear only surgical masks, saving on N95 respirators and shields, and saving 27,082 gowns since the Hexapods were installed on April 16. There are now four Hexapods at MGH—testing 28,938 patients by October 1—as well as two other iterations. With the Oasis, the patient steps into the booth so a provider on the outside is protected while doing aerosol-generating procedures. Edele walls, the other innovation, are simpler plexiglass barriers with arm ports used in the emergency department to evaluate patients and collect other vital signs.

Olson has sent Hexapod blueprints to partners in Uganda, and the University of Alabama ordered a variation of the Hexapod, with other institutions expressing interest in receiving their own version. Its success confirms Olson’s belief that “the best solutions come from people closest to the challenge.”