Photo by Hacking Health. Anthony (left) and his teammates working on Remindr app.

Last weekend we sent one of our own over to Montreal to take part in Hacking Health, which is a fantastic initiative to bring clinicians, designers and developers together in a Startup-Weekend-like scenario to tackle some big health problems in an accelerated timeframe.

Anthony Mei was our representative at the event. He is relatively new at the Centre for Global eHealth Innovation, but willing to jump right in! I’ve found that willingness is absolutely necessary in acclimating to the healthcare world, but it’s also good evidence that Anthony’s self-assessed title, the “Swiss army knife of developers,” holds true.

“I’ve always been put on new and/or difficult problems where I have to learn stuff and then implement the solutions — and I like that type of thing.”

We’re super happy to have passionate folks like Anthony on our team, and even more excited he’s willing to share his experiences. So check it out — here’s Anthony’s basic rundown of the event:


Friday night

1. The Pitch. Everyone got together and heard about 35 different pitches for projects to work on and what type of people they needed. Each “pitcher” had two minutes to sell their idea, standing on a soapbox and using a projector. There was a website where people could put their ideas up before the event, but the main pitch is what would get people interested.

2. Form Groups. Immediately after the pitches were done, groups formed. This was a pretty organic process as people milled about looking for the project that they wanted to contribute to and just started talking with the group. I chose a project that had a focused and definite need as well as good ties to a patient base. Here’s a little video clip of Ryan Meili, a family doctor, talking about the problem at hand (he’s a very good speaker… apparently an MD as well as being involved in politics in Saskatoon):

3. Plan. Once we formed our group we started talking about what our goals should be. Not only were we strangers to each other, but throw into that the fact that we all had different professional backgrounds, and you have a very challenging task. We talked and planned for about four hours and called it quits a little after midnight.

Saturday

4. Work (starting bright and early at 8am)! For our group this involved a lot of talking about what the application needed to accomplish as well as what it would look like. We had the difficulty that two out of four hackers did not show up, so using (extreme) agile methodology, we collectively agreed that this was a project we were interested in pursuing outside of a single day, and that the most productive thing we could do was to focus on design and application workflow.

5. Get ready for project submission. Projects had to be written up and a presentation was prepared for 6pm. According to the website, there were 19 final projects.

6. Presentations. Each group made a short presentation of their project to show everyone what they did. This is when I made my exit, but there was some mixing and mingling afterwards.

Takeaways

  • Lots of ideas were presented and there were lots of people interested in working on them. Many clinicians flew in from all over Canada when they heard of the event. Talking to some of them, I think the idea of the event was very exciting because they see simple problems and don’t understand why they haven’t been solved.
  • I am still working with my group deciding what the next steps are. We are waiting for the clinician to take what we did back to his group in Saskatoon and let us know what they need to proceed.
  • All in all it was a very exciting event as I don’t think developers and clinicians get together that much to talk about solutions. I think the clinicians had lots of ideas but didn’t know how to solve them. The designers/developers like to solve problems, but they don’t know what the problems are. I think the goal of the event – to plant the seeds for bigger things – was reached since for many people, the big mysterious wall between IT and healthcare was taken down a notch.

Big thanks to Anthony for sharing the write-up of his experience. If like me you’d like to see Hacking Health come to Toronto, tweet to @hackinghealthca with the hash tag #HackingHealthTO or send them a message at http://hackinghealth.ca/#contact/en. Let’s make this happen.

To read more about the outcomes of the event and other projects, go here: http://projects.hackinghealth.ca/