Michael Docktor, MD, is a pediatric gastroenterologist, director of clinical mobile solutions at Boston Children’s Hospital and a co-founder of Hacking Pediatrics. Above: The Hacking Pediatrics executive team: Judy Wang, MS; Michael Docktor, MD; Alex Pelletier, MBA; Margaret McCabe, PhD, RN, PNP; Kate Donovan, PhDc, MBA, BS, from Boston Children’s Hospital. (Photos: K.C. Cohen)
A hackathon is most easily explained by relating it to the crowd-sourced, time-crunched challenges that we see every day in pop culture. From “Top Chef” to “The Apprentice” to “Extreme Makeover,” television is teeming with passionate individuals trying to solve a difficult task with incredibly constrained resources and time. What results is often remarkable by any standard and speaks to the power of concentrated, collaborative problem solving.
When the challenge involves children and their health, the results can be magical, as witnessed by the weekend-long Hacking Pediatrics in late October, the first event of its kind. More than 150 “hackers,” including engineers, designers, software developers, entrepreneurs and roughly 40 clinicians gathered to create ground-breaking solutions for children and their families. …
Israel Green-Hopkins, MD, is a second-year fellow in Pediatric Emergency Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital and a fierce advocate for innovation in health information technology, with a passion for design, mobile health, remote monitoring and more. Follow him on Twitter @israel_md.
At the Hacking Pediatrics event in late October, I was fortunate to collaborate with a team interested, like I am, in patient engagement. After the initial idea-pitching phase of the hackathon, where clinicians present unsolved problems to an audience of techies and entrepreneurs, I joined a group of nearly 15 hackers who felt our desires to be similar. The prototype at left was our end result, but we had no idea then where our interest would lead.
At the beginning, in fact, our greatest challenge was determining exactly what problem we would try to solve. …
But she never fancied herself an innovator—until recently. After participating in Hacking Pediatrics, sponsored by Boston Children’s Hospital in collaboration with MIT’s H@cking Medicine, she now sees potential innovations and innovators everywhere.
“To be an innovator, you don’t need to be extraordinary, you just need to recognize that a problem exists and be dedicated to fixing it,” she says.
The problem she took to last month’s Hacking Pediatrics Hackathon stems directly from her work. As co-medical director at Boston Children’s Eosinophilic Gastrointestinal Disease (EGID) Program, which treats specific food allergies causing gastrointestinal inflammation, she sees families constantly struggling to find new (and healthy) meals that won’t trigger an allergic reaction in their kids.
“Many of our patients can only safely eat a handful of foods, so feeding them with any kind of variety is extremely hard,” she says. “Then if you factor in the likes, dislikes and other food intolerances that often exist in a family, just planning one family meal can feel like a nightmare.” …
Hackathons are quickly growing beyond Red Bull- and Dorito-fueled code-fests into fertile grounds for new technologies and products that potentially could improve medicine and health care.
But beyond individual events, could hackathons signal the beginnings of a new ecosystem for medical innovation?
That’s what groups like MIT’s H@cking Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH)’s new iHub and the New Media Medicine group at the MIT Media Lab are betting on. By tapping the same creative entrepreneurial energy that hackathon culture has brought to the technology industry, they believe they can fundamentally reimagine health care, one device, app and system at a time.
“The Boston area is the most fertile ground for medical innovation you could ever imagine,” says Michael Docktor, MD, a gastroenterologist at Boston Children’s and one of the organizers, with the H@cking Medicine team, of this weekend’s Hacking Pediatrics hackathon. “We need to make the case with the local medical and technology community that hackathons are a viable way of innovating in this day and age, that this is the way we ought to be innovating.” …
Michael Docktor, MD, is director of Clinical Mobile Solutions at Boston Children’s Hospital and a pediatric gastroenterologist with a research and clinical interest in inflammatory bowel disease. (See a recent interview with him on MedTech Boston.)
How do the most disruptive companies of our day like Facebook and Pinterest get started? In the warm glow of Silicon Valley, in the shadows of technology titans such as Apple and Google, bright, enthusiastic young entrepreneurs, programmers and designers get together to “hack” ideas for the next big thing. The concept is simple and has worked in tackling challenges from creating the next great social network to developing an innovative green-energy technology.
However, applying this model of collaborative, rapid problem-solving to pain points in health care is still a relatively novel concept. Hacking Medicine, a community of passionate “hackers” at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), has brought this practice to medicine and successfully organized events from Uganda to Boston. Graduates of one recent event with AthenaHealth—which develops and sells cloud-based services for electronic health records, practice management and care coordination—are on their way to developing successful businesses, including PillPack (helping patients manage their medications), the BeTH Project (inexpensive adjustable prostheses) and Podimetrics (a data-transmitting shoe insole for diabetics). …