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Hacking Health @ MaRS: Top minds cooking up solutions to bite-sized healthcare problems

October 23, 2012

A physician, a developer and an investor walk into a room…

This may be a rare occurrence, but when it happened last Friday, these three were greeted by over 300 people just like them: people eager to see the health services landscape in Canada change for the better by applying technology to front-line problems.

This weekend, MaRS was host to Hacking Health’s second-ever hackathon. For those unfamiliar with the hackathon concept, these 48-hour events focus on rapidly developing and prototyping technical solutions to real-world problems. They do so by bringing together developers, designers, business mentors and idea originators, and emphasizing hands-on work on projects that can be tackled in a short period of time.

By connecting healthcare experts such as doctors, nurses, clinic managers and other health professionals with developers and designers, Hacking Health has created an environment where teams can form quickly, assumptions can be tested and the necessary steps to solving known, bite-sized problems can be put into motion immediately with the end goal of bringing newly formed prototypes back to clinics and hospitals for immediate impact testing.

Hacking Health began on the evening of Friday, October 19, with 68 one-minute pitches from a variety of healthcare experts. The remainder of Friday evening was dedicated to amalgamating ideas, forming teams and beginning to map out solutions.

The hackathon continued with full-day sessions on Saturday and Sunday. Come Sunday morning, a little less than half of the teams had survived the intense initial ideation, planning, prototyping and testing stages. By that afternoon, 27 real human-centred solutions to a number of burning front-line healthcare problems were presented—a true testament to the level of talent and dedication in the room.

By the numbers

The numbers speak to the huge success of this event–one of the largest hackathons in Canada:

  • A total of >500 people registered, including roughly 125 doctors, and 275 programmers, coders and designers
  • About 50 mentors came to help out
  • A dedicated design table (12-16 designers) provided over $50,000 worth of free design work (logos, mockups, etc.)
  • Over 35 teams got together to work on ideas all weekend
  • One team worked overnight Saturday to Sunday (and they actually won first place – hard work DOES pay off!)
  • 27 teams were able to demonstrate a working prototype

Top solutions

Though every application represented a win (some were even polished enough for use in clinics YESTERDAY!), here are some of the honourable mentions highlighted by the Hacking Health judges:

Best team: VeriDrug

A web and mobile application for patients and providers, VeriDrug assembles current medication lists from up-to-date dispensing databases and presents them in an accessible and useful format.

Huge progress and huge impact: OsteoMapper

Similar to an immunization record for vaccines, OsteoMapper will provide doctors with a quick and easy visual check of where their cancer patients have received radiation therapy to avoid the overlap of radiation fields, a mistake that has potentially fatal consequences.

Most transformative: GENtle 2.0 – Open Source HTML5 DNA Design App

Fondly described as “a bio-lab in every browser,” GENtle is creating foundational technology for labs to help create, simulate and test new DNA on their computers before having to send it for production.

Most practical: Wound Measurement

A mobile application, Wound Measurement measures the surface area of wounds using a non-contact, reliable medical tool that tracks wound healing through photo documentation.

Maternal and child welfare, as well as people’s choice: It’s a Long Story

It’s a Long Story is a timely mobile game that helps girls and boys to learn appropriate boundaries, encourage healthy intimacy and proactively prevent predatory behaviour, harassment and assault.

Best consumer health product: ProstaTrack

ProstaTrack is a mobile application dedicated to the improvement of patient and physician experiences in dealing with prostate cancer. It also allows for the mass collection of data toward population-level quality improvements.

Grand prize winners

The two winners of the MaRS Incubation Prize were:

For most social impact: CommunityLinks

A tool for community resource navigation, CommunityLinks is an online platform helping both providers and patients to access current information about the services in their communities that meet their needs.

For greatest immediate impact and executability: PocketLabs

Empowering patients with results, PocketLabs allows patients to view their laboratory results on their mobile phones immediately after their results are available, and helps them to understand their results with contextualized lab references.

As so eloquently expressed by Hacking Health co-founder Jeeshan Chowdhury, Hacking Health serves a similar role as a chef in the process of baking a cake: it seeks out the best ingredients and brings them together harmoniously. However, these are only the first steps to making something new and delicious. After all of the ingredients have been combined, the budding cake still needs the nurturing warmth of the oven to support its transformation from batter to delicious dessert.

This is why Hacking Health chose to hold their Toronto event at MaRS: to sustain the collaborative partnerships formed between technology innovators and healthcare experts in an ecosystem with support for both, and also to ensure that, after the weekend has ended, these nascent ventures will have the support they need to carry on testing, iterating and improving their solutions from an organization already primed to accelerate new innovation.

To view more pictures from the event, click here.

Hacking Health was made possible by a number of partners, including Nightingale, an innovative health IT and electronic medical records company; and the Business Development Bank of Canada, dedicated to helping entrepreneurs reach their full potential.

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Leona Teixeira @ MaRS

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Leona is the associate of the information technology, communications and entertainment (ICE) practice. She is passionate about emerging technologies and dedicates her time to helping innovative and disruptive IT-focused ventures grow within Canada

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