Hacking sports medicine in Qatar

MIT Hacking Medicine Qatar

Judy Wang, MS, is a program manager in the Telehealth Program at Boston Children’s Hospital.

It was an offer I couldn’t refuse. Student leaders from MIT Hacking Medicine had invited me to join a weekend health care hackathon in Doha, Qatar. We had taken our show on the international road before, to Uganda and India, but this hack (November 20–22, 2014) would be our first in the Middle East and the first focused on sports medicine. In partnership with Qatar Science & Technology Park (QSTP), a member of the Qatar Foundation, this hack brought together students, athletes and health care professionals to solve sports medicine’s most pressing challenges.

Day 1: Getting our bearings in Doha

After nearly 20 hours of travel, our team arrived in Doha. Law student Viqar Hussain, the only one of us who had traveled to Doha before, introduced us to his friend, Khalid Abu Amine, a fitness entrepreneur in Doha who is passionate about making fitness accessible to everyone. Khalid gave us a brief overview of Qatar’s sports medicine and entrepreneurial landscape and a short tour of Sports City, the complex that was central to Doha’s successful bid for the 2022 World Cup. Qatar is investing heavily in its athletic capabilities: the Torch Hotel in Sports City, built in the shape of an Olympic torch, signifies the country’s Olympic hopes.

Day 2: Learning about health care in Qatar

Our QSTP hosts graciously treated us to breakfast. Half of our group then split off to continue preparing for the hack, to kick off that evening. Ayesha Khalid, MD, MBA, an ENT physician and clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School, and I headed off to meetings at Rumailah Hospital and Sidra Medical and Research Center, respectively.

Being a program manager in the Telehealth Program at Boston Children’s, I wanted to learn more about pediatric health care in Qatar, particularly in areas in which telehealth could play a role. Qatar is investing heavily in technology and health care. When it is fully operational, Sidra will be a $7.9 billion medical and research center whose goal is to be the Gulf region’s leading maternal-fetal and pediatric tertiary medical center. It will be a completely “paperless” hospital equipped with top-of-the-line technology to support its clinical workflows.

Ned McCague of MIT Hacking Medicine (center) does a simulated gallbladder removal in the Qatar Robotic Surgery Centre as researcher Julien Abi Nahed looks on.

Currently, pediatric resources are scarce in Qatar, and access to primary care services is minimal. Many families seeking care for their children currently go to the largest hospital system in Doha, Hamad Medical Corporation. Sidra is continuing to develop its internal pediatric subspecialty capabilities. I took notes on how telehealth technologies could be leveraged to help support these emerging hospitals.

Later that day, we completed final “choreography” for Friday and Saturday’s events—including planning for scheduled prayer breaks—and greeted our participants and sponsors at the welcome dinner.

Day 3: Let’s get hacking!

Our MIT Hacking Medicine lead, Chris Lee, kicked off our first real day of hacking with incredible energy. A group from the Qatar Foundation even came to lead us in a morning workout. The morning keynotes came from Doha-based clinicians and engineers describing their “pain points” in sports medicine. These ranged from a need to more accurately measure the torque and force on an athlete’s knee contributing to the severity of ACL injuries, to the need to better diagnose and treat concussions.

Next came the pitches. Our hosts had explained to us that an entrepreneurial, hacker spirit is not the norm in Qatar. To get participants up on stage, team member and data scientist Ned McCague announced that he would take a “selfie” with anyone who pitched. Selfies became the breakout trend of our hack.

Of about 40 total participants, 24 came on stage to pitch their ideas, and eventually formed eight teams. A 3-D printer was available for the participants to work with, as were wearables, sensors for prototyping and mentors who circulated among the teams.

Day 4: And the winners are…

Just like that, it was time for the judging session. First prize—28,000 Qatari riyal (about $7,700 USD) in cash vouchers—went to team QRID for its real-time reactive hardware system to help athletes avoid injuries during training. If you are struggling with an exercise, the system would sense that and adjust the weight to ensure you don’t hurt yourself. This project also received a Most Innovative Design award.

Team QRID (front row) accepts First Prize with judges and sponsors looking on.
Team QRID (front row) accepts First Prize with judges and sponsors looking on.

Second prize, as well as the Most Beneficial to Users and Best Solution awards, went to Rep It Right. This team’s wearable sensing device, paired with a mobile app, would leverage gyroscope and accelerometer capabilities to detect an athlete’s form and collect data to avoid repeating training mistakes. Third prize went to Guardian Angel for its platform to detect and alert EMS technicians to any heart rate or rhythm abnormalities that athletes may be unaware of until something goes wrong.

Other prizes:

  •  Team LoadIn, whose software solution would help coaches and athletes receive real-time performance data, won the Most Easily Implemented award.
  •  Team Futuristic earned a Most Out of the Box award for Fat Stat, a wearable device to help athletes measure their nonessential fat level.

Other projects:

  •  FlyFit: a mobile app leveraging gyroscopes and accelerometers to help athletes monitor their health during long flights
  •  Zealth: a mobile app collecting data from existing wearable devices to help athletes develop a personalized recovery management plan
  •  ACL: a wearable sensing device, intended to be worn during training, that detects torque magnitude in real time and prevents ACL injuries

Final thoughts

This was truly a whirlwind trip for MIT Hacking Medicine: we flew in specifically to help organize the hack and departed the morning after. Even so, we were able to witness how we inspired the hack participants to be entrepreneurial. Although only a few teams walked away with cash prizes, I’d like to believe that the real “win” was that we infected the QSTP community with that hacker mentality and that Lean startup spirit—what MIT Hacking Medicine is truly all about. As Qatar and the Gulf region continue to develop and emerge on the global health care stage, it’s exciting to think about what innovations and technologies might be possible.

Ed notes: Boston Children’s Hospital will be attending the Arab Health summit this January 26-29, 2015. Visit us at booth 5A30 if you’re attending and inquire about international scholarships for the next Global Pediatric Innovation Summit in Boston (Nov. 9-10, 2015), or contact our international office at 617-355-7159.

If you are interested in pursuing pediatric telehealth projects with Boston Children’s, visit bostonchildrens.org/telehealth or contact the Telehealth Program at telehealth@childrens.harvard.edu.