Project INSPIRE Drives Innovation Through Technology with Amazon Web Services

Article Summary
  • The Miller School’s Azizi Seixas, Ph.D., is leading the University of Miami’s Project INSPIRE, an initiative to use technology and innovation to re-imagine health care and education.
  • Project INSPIRE goals include promoting a culture of innovation and community, embracing informatics and promoting interdisciplinary research.
  • Participants at the Feb. 10 Project INSPIRE workshop were encouraged to brainstorm for “moonshot” ideas that could inspire new ways of thinking about health care and education.

A bold, collaborative initiative to unleash innovation at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine in special collaboration with Amazon Web Services (AWS) was launched at a Feb. 10 faculty retreat.

“Today is a monumental day for our university,” said Azizi Seixas, Ph.D., interim chair of the Miller School’s Department of Informatics and Health Data Science, who is co-leading the university-wide Project INSPIRE (Innovating Next-generation Solutions for Precision Care, Innovation, Research and Education).

 Andrew Page from AWS speaks from a podium
Azizi Seixas, Ph.D., says Project INSPIRE provides the opportunity to shape the future of medical research and clinical care.

“Innovation is vital to meet challenges like health disparities, fragmented care, aging population, cost of care, workforce shortages and lack of access,” said Dr. Seixas, also director of The Media and Innovation Lab and director, population health informatics, for the Frost Institute for Data Science and Computing. “Through Project INSPIRE we can imprint our vision, values and beliefs on research, clinical care and education.”

More than 75 Miller School researchers, clinicians and educators took part in the workshop, along with College of Engineering and the Frost Institute for Data Science and Computing faculty and AWS leaders. 

“This is a fascinating time in our industry, as technology innovation impacts precision care, patient outcomes, student learning and medical research,” said AWS U.S. State and Local Government and Education Director Faisal Hanafi, who co-hosted the retreat with Dr. Seixas. “The work you are doing at the University of Miami is leading the way. AWS is humbled and very appreciative of the opportunity to collaborate with you.” 

Dr. Seixas said the goals of Project INSPIRE include promoting a culture of innovation and community, embracing informatics, sharing resources and promoting interdisciplinary research.

“There is a tremendous appetite for putting big data, artificial intelligence and other digital solutions to work in health care,” he said. “By breaking through silos and harmonizing digital activities, we can make our university a beacon of hope for South Florida and beyond.”

Brainstorming for a Moonshot

The Project INSPIRE retreat included brainstorming workshops to develop “moonshot” ideas in five areas: education, research, translation and clinical care, venture and SOPE (service, outreach, policy and ethics). This winter retreat will be followed by summer and fall retreats to refine ideas and opportunities and develop a strategic plan for innovation and digital transformation in these sectors.

AWS's Andrew Page speaking at Project INSPIRE
The key to innovation? Andrew Page from Amazon Digital Innovation says start with the customer and work backwards.

“The AWS team came here because they believe in the U,” said Dr. Seixas, who was named one of AWS’s “10 Education Champions in the U.S.” in 2022. He noted the Project INSPIRE initiative will support South Florida’s growth as an epicenter of technology and innovation. “We can be a leader in the Global South, serving as a catalyst to bridge the digital divide.”

At the retreat, Venture Miami Executive Director Eric Gavin said Miami values the university’s talent and resources in growing South Florida’s technology ecosystem.

“We are looking closely at health tech as a focus area for our community,” he added.

The Importance of Taking Risks

In his keynote talk at the retreat, AWS Executive Education Advisor Mark Hampton, Ph.D., said big data and analytic tools are transforming health care and education.

“But we need to think about the people and processes, as well as technology,” he said.

For innovation to flourish in a university setting, faculty need to be willing to take risks and make mistakes.

A breakout session during Project INSPIRE, with attendees seated at a table and talking
Project INSPIRE encouraged stakeholders to think big and look for the “moonshot” that can transform education and health care.

“Failure isn’t as bad as you might think it is,” he said, emphasizing the importance of changing the culture of higher education while noting that institutions “did cartwheels on their pinkies” in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns.

The original moonshot inspired U.S. space exploration in the 1960s, and Hampton challenged attendees to apply the same mentality to health care.

“You have access to resources that can change the world, if applied properly,” he said. “It’s time again to go to the moon, and we are looking forward to how you will get us there.”

A Strategy for Innovation

To develop innovative products that don’t fit into a classic business structure, AWS focuses on the unmet needs of the customer.

 “We start with the customer and work backwards,” said Andrew Page, principal, prototyping lead, Amazon Digital Innovation. “That’s a great mechanism for innovation.”

In health care, the customer might be a patient, clinician, researcher, educator, staffer or member of the community. But rather than considering them as a group, it’s vital to drill down and focus on specific customers’ needs. After identifying an opportunity, the next step is to outline how the product, service or process can be improved and its potential impact on the customer.

Page encouraged faculty, staff and students to be willing to experiment and try out new ideas, saying, “The key steps to innovation are thinking big, starting small and refining the concept. This does not guarantee success, but remember that failure is always a learning opportunity.”

Tags: Amazon Web Services, Dr. Azizi Seixas, innovation, technology