Five Things to Know about Hosting a Healthcare Hackathon

On a recent weekend in September, healthcare got hacked – and it wasn’t the first time.

With origins in Silicon Valley, hackathons bring together people from different fields, backgrounds, and industries to “hack,” or devise a real solution to a specific problem or issue over the course of a few days. The idea of applying hacking to healthcare is relatively new, but with hackathons increasingly being hailed as the future of medical innovation, you may be wondering if hosting a hackathon is right for your organization.

Recently, we helped Intel-GE Care Innovations, a pioneer in connecting the care continuum to the home, conduct their first-ever CI Patient Engagement Hackfest, in partnership with MIT Hacking Medicine, StartX, and Stanford Medical School. Aimed at developing and designing innovative solutions to close the gap between patient consumers and their providers, the Hackfest brought together computer programmers, developers, engineers, designers, clinicians, scientists, nurses, family caregivers, patients, and entrepreneurs, all vying for a chance to help transform medicine with health technologies.

Hackathons are a great way to spark disruptive, tangible ideas that will serve as building blocks to help your company advance care and approach innovation within your own organization. Interested in hosting your own? Here are our five key takeaways from our first hacking experience:

1) Partner with the experts. A hackathon can be a big undertaking, so make sure you team up with those who are hackathon connoisseurs, like MIT’s Hacking Medicine and Stanford’s StartX. These hacking pros know the ins and outs of planning, organizing, and running the show from start to finish, and are valuable resources for everything from speaker selection to securing judges, and mentor scheduling.

2) Develop a clearly defined hack topic. Dr. Jacob Reider, former ONC Deputy National Coordinator of Health Information Technology (and Hackfest keynote speaker,) said it best in his opening remarks, “Pick an activity that is close to you because that will fuel your passion.” Think of your audience and who will benefit from the event outcomes to ensure participants are hacking to make a difference. Care Innovations is passionate about motivating patients to take charge of their own care, so we focused our Hackfest on creating meaningful connections between patients, clinicians, and the data collected outside the walls of the clinical setting. What problem is your product, device, or organization trying to solve? The more specific the problem, the better the potential solution.

3) Invite and encourage diversity. When creating the “guest” list, don’t limit the playing field. Encourage applicants spanning all backgrounds and industries: developers, entrepreneurs, designers, clinicians and nurses to name a few. Our winning team included (among others) a biologist, a designer, and a computer programmer, who called upon their diverse viewpoints, ideas, experiences, and skills to come up with the ultimate hack – a strategy to advance the quality of care by facilitating meaningful, year-round interaction by combining use-specific kits comprising of sensors that bridge patient engagement and medical provider insight.

Pro Tip: Don’t rule out the end user, either. Invite those who are directly impacted by the problem and those who will benefit from the solutions.

4) Offer Prizes. Hackathons shouldn’t stop at the closing bell. Offering opportunities for winners to continue developing their ideas beyond the event is a great way to enable lasting change. All of the teams that participated in the Patient Engagement Hackfest were awarded prizes, including face-to-face consultations with Care Innovations executives to help further develop the teams’ ideas, concepts, and solutions.

Fostering an innovative environment post-hackathon creates a greater chance for the development of the next industry-changing solution. Think about what makes sense for your company or industry – is it mentoring opportunities with executives or setting up a meeting with like-minded innovators and entrepreneurs? Whatever it is, be sure to enable winners to take the next step in making their innovations come to life.

5) Start planning – now! Location? Dates? Topic? Renowned speakers? A talented panel of judges? There’s no shortage of things to do when planning a hackathon. Give yourself a significant amount of time to ensure your next hackathon goes off without a hitch.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to hosting a successful hacking event. Interested in learning more about CI’s Patient Engagement Hackfest? Check out Care Innovations’ CEO, Sean Slovenski’s blog post, and ReviveHealth CMO, Kriste Goad’s Hacking for Good.

December 17, 2014
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