When hackers meet up with big business, the result is a pizza-free hackathon
I spent the weekend judging at the Philips HealthSuite Hackathon at the Park Central Hotel in San Francisco. It was an amazing event. First of all, there was no pizza — distinctly and, in my opinion, deliciously unusual for a Hackathon. Second, Philips was all in with great prizes (total value was about $62,000!) including Interactive Passes for the winning team to SXSW in Austin next weekend and cash for everyone on one of the top three winning teams. I have seen folks code the night away for cardboard certificates, so imagine the enthusiasm with which the teams worked in these relatively posh surroundings with prizes worth writing home about. Third, Jeroen Tas, the Philips CEO of Healthcare Informatics, Solutions and Services flew in from China to keynote and cheer on the participants.
Several of the judges were in the room when Jeroen (pronounced yah-roon) practiced his speech. It was pretty long and detailed, laying out the vision and need for the HealthSuite platform and encouraging the 150+ people in the room to form teams to build something that matters using the platform’s ability to aggregate data and connect data sets in ways that will lead to new insights, better health care, and more engaged consumers. The practice speech was perfectly delivered, without notes and without hesitation or do-overs. I was sitting next to one of the other judges, Aenor Sawyer, MD, Director of Strategic Relatins at UCSF’s Center for Digital Health Innovation. We both spontaneously started looking around the room to find the teleprompter…but there was none. Jeroen just nailed it from memory.
The people and the processes
Philips used social media to promote the Hackathon and it paid off. 367 people pre-registered online and of those, 159 people showed up in person on Friday night to see the kick off and form their teams. There was a good mix of backgrounds including developers, UX designers, health care professionals including some docs, business entrepreneurs, patient advocates and interested others. One person I talked to described himself as a semi-professional hackathoner and there were other folks I knew from prior hackathons I had attended. Unlike the usual portrayal of Silicon Valley types, there was a diverse crowd from a race, ethnic, age, and gender perspective, although, as usual, it was a bit light on women.
The hackers were given 6 scenarios to develop to:
- Helping Sam, a senior with diabetes, age at home
- Helping Nancy after her hip replacement surgery
- Helping COPD sufferer Charlie breathe easier
- Keeping Mark, a young man, healthy at work
- Helping Karen Manage her Breast Cancer
- A dashboard with actionable data
Each of the 5 personas came complete with a data set provided to the participants on a USB stick.
After the formal presentations, folks divided up to form teams. Some people came in pre-formed teams, including two made up primarily of Edge Interns, an organization founded by Francis Kong MD to mentor young people in the space. Some people came solo hoping to find like-minded others that they could spend the next 48 hours working with. 105 of the 159 people who attended ended up forming 21 teams with an average size of 5 people. They started brainstorming immediately, grabbing a judge or two to run their ideas by. At 10 pm, they departed probably to keep on working or maybe to get some shut eye before the marathon of day 2 began.
Hacking the day away
The second day started at 9 am with an overview of the platform and training on the available resources. This was techie talk – the slides and videos filled with tiny print, technical jargon, and displays of code (OMG). I realized that I am never going speak that language — evidently some of the team members had the same experience and the room emptied out leaving only the hard core coders to soak in the details.
Once the teams set down to work at their respective tables, the judges wandered the room answering questions and sharing their opinions on the work done to date. After lunch, the teams went into deep concentration honing their ideas, their code, and their presentations. People hacked onsite until 9:30pm and then left to continue working into the wee hours somewhere else. The clock continued to tick…
Reconvening on Day 3 (my birthday BTW), the teams put the finishing touches on their slides and began practicing their presentations in individual demo stations complete with remote control and screens. This too was a Hackathon amenity I have never seen before.
Food was available all day, ranging from a hot breakfast buffet to lunches laden with healthy, but also delicious salads and sandwiches. Green salads with pear slices, tofu, quinoa, veggie as well as meat sandwiches, energy bars, tiramisu, cookies, apples, bananas and more — our plates (which were gigantic by the way) runneth over.
19 of the 20 teams ended up pitching their creations to the judges, starting right after lunch. Ideas included providing COPD patients with an app that aggregates data from biosensors, GPS, motion sensors, indoor and outdoor environmental sensor data; a mirror that uses facial detection to monitor mood and correlate it with other types of data such as blood pressure and glucose; and aggregation of a variety of measures such as mood, stress level, heart rate and pain level to test the efficacy of dance therapy for cancer patients. Creativity and science collided in magnificent ways all weekend.
The winning team was named Team 6 Analytics; their produce was called MediDash. Presented by Robert Chang, Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology at Stanford, on behalf of his team (Hao Gao, Jared Radin, Sudharsan Rangaswamy, Michael Liang and Mei Yi Tee). In a weekend, they designed a dashboard that used the HealthSuite platform to pull in vital sign diagnostic testing, and therapeutic interventions data, data from the EMR, home monitoring data and organize it in a chronological manner so that clinicians have a complete, timed view of the information that they can correlate, for example with changes in imaging findings over time.
The other winners can be found on the Hackathon website.
Special kudos to Jeanne Hsu and Jeff Chan for orchestrating a flawless event — the Pizza-Free Philips HealthSuite Hackathon has set a high bar for other hackathons to meet.