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Introducing high-school students to eHealth

Ainslee Chen and Harvey Zhang try out the medical science apps they developed during a week-long summer camp at the University of British Columbia.

Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail/Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail

Geeks are the future, they are the new cool.

That is the message that Harvey Zhang wants to give to other 16- and 17-year-olds who may scoff at the week he just spent in a summer camp developing smartphone apps for medical use, trying out hospital equipment and picking the brains of various health professionals.

Mr. Zhang, a self-proclaimed geek who enjoys anything and everything to do with the sciences, has already spent part of his summer volunteering at a physics and astronomy camp. But that wasn't enough nerdiness for him. Last week, he attended the eHealth Young Innovators Summer Camp at the University of British Columbia with about 25 other young people. The week-long session introduces teens entering Grades 10 to 12 to health careers and allows them to explore how modern technology can improve the delivery of health services.

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"Call it geeky, but eventually [computer know-how]will become the norm," said Mr. Zhang, a University Hill Secondary School student. "Really it's true. In a decade from now, I'm guessing, if you go to anyone, they'll know how to operate basic computer modules, phone modules. Go back a decade, nobody knew how to use Android [phones]or iPods. The next generation will surely have a lot to do with computers."

Kendall Ho, director of the eHealth Strategy Office of the Faculty of Medicine at UBC, a centre that researches how modern information and communication technologies can improve health care, agrees with Mr. Zhang.

"Young people are the digital natives, really, they're very interested in technology," he said. "Many of them are interested in health sciences, too, so we want to give them the opportunity to use technology and engage them in the health area, expose them to doctors and nurses."

Over the week, Mr. Zhang and his campmates visited Vancouver General Hospital and the Telus Innovation Centre to try out ultrasound equipment and other hospital gadgets. But one of the most exciting aspects of the camp, he said, was learning to build three Android phone apps.

Sporting lime-green camp T-shirts, the students presented their projects on the final day of camp last week. One app is a body-mass-index calculator. Another allows health-care professionals to snap photos of a patient, add notes, press a button and the information will be uploaded to a central server so that the details can be accessed by a doctor immediately. The third app is designed mainly for elderly people. When the phone is strapped to the body, the app can detect whether a person has fallen down, and for how long they have been down. The information will be updated on a server so that a doctor or aide can tell whether that person needs help.

Ainsley Chen, who goes to West Point Grey Academy, said she wasn't too keen on eHealth Camp before she went. It seemed nothing like the sports camps she normally attends.

"I actually kind of dreaded coming at first, I thought it was a camp for nerds," she said sheepishly. "I thought it would be out-of-the-textbook learning about what health is, but I found it more fun than I thought it would be. We still play Frisbee and capture the flag, and I met a lot of new friends and I definitely feel like I'm more computer-savvy after all these apps I built."

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