The 3rd annual Tufts Medstart Hackathon wrapped up on Sunday, February 1st, 2015, with dozens of happy and exhausted competitors, organizers and mentors celebrating teamwork and the spirit of innovation. Participants networked, snacked on cupcakes and chocolate covered strawberries, reflecting upon their part in the first hackathon dedicated to medical education. Whether a winner or not, the competitors universally had smiles on their faces, having gained new connections, valuable collaboration skills, and the satisfaction of developing a product they were passionate about.
The weekend started with a series of talks laying out the entrenched obstacles posed by the medical education system. Medical professionals reflecting on their own experience called for solutions to preserve creative thought in medical training, improve efficiency for educators and students, and foster leadership advocating for healthcare technology research and applications. Then an introduction to tools already developed to enhance medical education were presented, made by David Best from The Doctors Channel.com (with a surprise video appearance by his dog, Elvis), Shiv Gaglani from Osmosis, Andrew Richards from ReelDx, and Jeffrey Jacobson from EnterpriseVR. The stage was set—important problems identified, and an array of tools which could be employed to solve them. With the prospect of using these technologies and APIs, competitors went off for their last full night of sleep.
Friday events kicked off with another lineup of speakers, sharing what to expect after the hackathon. Notable talks were made by Hannah Chung, co-founder of Sproutel, Inc., who recounted her struggles with prototyping and the unique demands of children with chronic disease. Ashley Reid, CEO of Wellist, who had met her technical co-founder at last year’s Medstart hackathon, spoke about the unique business challenges in healthcare and the unexpected sources of competition in the industry.
At last, it was time for the initial idea pitches—over 40 participants presented 1 minute statements encapsulating a problem they identified in medical education. Teams formed and consolidated, and a second round of 20 pitches presented more cohesive goals for achieving a solution, and needed skill sets in rounding out the team. The next 36 hours brought a scene of incessant ideating, pivoting, coding, and of course, coffee drinking. Teams separated into classrooms in the Tufts School of Medicine to develop their ideas, ranging from how to optimize continuing medical education (CME), to developing digital memory “palaces” for recalling complex collections of data. Mentors rotated in and out of the rooms, helping to focus overly broad solutions and fine tuning business plans. The pitch rehearsal on Saturday, with a 3 minute time limit, was rough. A panel of mentors sat in the audience, and unmercifully tore apart the unfinished presentations. With 18 hours left until the final pitches, the work for the teams continued to intensify.
Sunday morning was met with great anticipation. As last minute pitch preparation took place, the judges filtered into the auditorium, including medical educators and representatives from Athenahealth, Boston Scientific, and Romulus Capital. Teams came down one by one for their 3 minute pitches. With an impressive improvement over the pitch rehearsals the day before, the judges had a tough task in front of them.
Deliberations involved significant debate over the judges’ favorites, but finally consensus was achieved. First place went to team SIM-VR, which utilized a virtual reality platform like the Oculus Rift with wearable diagnostics to train medical personnel to both manage stressful situations and optimize team performance in different clinical scenarios. Second place was awarded to CHEA (Chief Health Executive Assistant), a mobile app targeted towards parent of children with chronic disease, featuring daily text message questionnaires, a mobile diary and tracking software for patient symptoms, and added value of creating more streamlined office encounters. Third place went to team Uptake, who orchestrated an impressive demo of a software platform utilizing IBM’s Watson to instantaneously extract medical board questions tailored to each curricular lecture. All of these teams received a cash prize, a meeting at Romulus Capital, and incubator space to develop their product further. A special prize sponsored by Thalmic Labs for the best use of Myoband was awarded to team MoveMed, who proposed using EMG signal differentials to identify incorrect technique for using a laryngoscope during intubation, avoiding countless complications from this common medical procedure.
The big surprise for the MedStart hackathon was a special invitation for one of the winners to travel to Seoul, South Korea to compete in the Global Hackathon (http://seoul.globalhackathon.io/). With a popular vote of all the competitors, the team selected for this prize was team Uptake. The shocked faces of the team members said it all—and their excitement was shared by everyone at the event.
The Tufts Medstart hackathon embodied the power of unifying clinical, technical, and business perspectives to solve challenges in healthcare. And while these challenges may seem innumerable, and the work to solve them may seem overwhelming, events like this one show that the process can be fun and fulfilling.