Hackathons for Health: Useful process or passing fad?

Several people have recently asked my opinion about the value of hackathons targeted at the healthcare market. In each case I hesitated to answer, heeding my mother’s advice “to say nothing at all if you have nothing nice to say.” Making negative comments about an event at which people donate their time just didn’t feel right. Yet, for all the good intentions of those involved, I am not yet sold on the value of hackathons for the Canadian healthcare system, at least as they are currently constituted.

Check out the remainder of this article at Technology for Doctors.



One response to “Hackathons for Health: Useful process or passing fad?

  1. I received the following comment by email and, with the author’s permission, I am posting on the blog:

    Thank you for your editorial in this morning’s Technology for Doctors.

    I agree that Hackathons are not panaceas, but they do serve many purposes.

    Firstly, health care professionals and patients have experience that allow them to envision a better way to deliver or receive care. Hackathons allow us to bring these ideas to those with technical skill in programming and design; these technicians can in turn inform whether the idea is feasible and, if it is, how it can be realized.

    While you are correct that not all issues will be solved over the weekend, some are. These are usually focused challenges with clear end-points; from the Hacking Health in Vancouver, two chief residents were able to save tens of hours of work each month by partnering with a programmer who created a scheduler for resident on-call shifts that incorporated users’ preferences. Another team took experience-proven obstetrical flow sheets and digitized them for remote and concurrent use and improved record-keeping.

    Other projects are larger and this is where the hackathon can be seen as the pilot of a series rather than a discrete episode. A project to create patient-controlled health records started with a team of 12 designers, programmers, nurses, and doctors. After the weekend there was a very rough prototype. Ten months later, the team has whittled to five as interest and other life obligations changed; however, we are soon releasing a beta version for patients to test.

    So, I agree that hackathons are best used as a tool to introduce like-minded people with similar interests and diverse backgrounds, to receive evaluation of one’s ideas, and to generate start-up teams that may or may continue on.

    This is an exciting time in the Health IT game and it is great to see so many Canadian players like Medeo, LiveCare, and Figure1. Perhaps the next great idea or team with come from a Hackathon, perhaps not; either way, the important thing is to get together for sake of all our health.

    Eric Cadesky

    Dr. Eric Cadesky MD CM, CCFP

    Family Physician, The Doctor’s Office
    Clinical Instructor, The University of British Columbia
    Medical Coordinator, Louis Brier Home and Hospital
    Board of Directors, British Columbia Medical Association, District 3 Delegate
    Chair, Practice Survival Skills Conference, The University of British Columbia
    Twitter: @drcadesky

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