Introducing Hacking Health
I am one of the organizers of Hacking Health. On February 24th-25th, 2012, healthcare experts and technology innovators will gather in Montréal in an effort to bring tech innovation to our healthcare system–the first event of its kind in Canada. In this post I will share how the event came about, and what we’re planning.
An Idea is Born
One of the first people I met in Montréal was Jeeshan Chowdhury. Jeeshan is an MD/PhD Rhodes Scholar who arrived in Montréal last fall fresh from Oxford, where he was studying the digitization of information systems in hospitals. I found him hanging out at tech events, soaking up hacker culture and trying to build a team to address challenges in the healthcare system. Since a previous company I co-founded (Bodo) was in consumer health, I was interested in Jeeshan’s work and struck up a conversation about how he could refine his vision and attract a quality team. I was immediately intrigued by the idea of collaborating more deeply with healthcare experts.
At Bodo, not having medical backgrounds ourselves, we opted to start a business in which we could sell direct to consumers rather than trying to navigate the intimidating bureaucracies of our healthcare system. This was a rational decision which has led to a great business, but as a society, it also represents an innovation drag: how many talented individuals avoid building careers in healthcare not because they don’t find it interesting, but because they’re intimidated by the barriers to entry, and unsure of how to start?
For a tech innovator thinking about entering healthcare, doubts and questions abound: how can I test my ideas in a real medical practice? Where can I find doctors to give input on my ideas? How can I navigate the bureaucracy of our medical system? What about the regulatory environment? How can I find out what problems really need solving?
Likewise, from the perspective of a typical medical professional, the idea of initiating a technology project is daunting. Programmers speak arcane languages of their own, and technology projects are infamous for costing tens of thousands of dollars just to reach a prototype stage, with no guarantee of results.
Soon enough, we found ourselves thinking about what kind of atmosphere would be most conducive to breaking down the barriers between these two disciplines: what if we could get doctors, nurses, and other health professionals in the same room as hackers? How should such an event be structured? What might the outcomes be? Could we reduce the risk of healthcare innovation by giving technologists exposure to the healthcare knowledge and connections they lack?
From problem to action
On February 24-25th, we’ll be testing our ideas in an event loosely structured as a hackathon: medical professionals and other interested individuals will share project proposals, and then organize into teams of designers, developers, and project managers to prototype solutions.
For medical professionals, the aim is to provide an environment where they can get immediate technical feedback ideas in an informal, fun, fast-paced atmosphere. For programmers and designers, there will be opportunities to work on meaningful projects with guidance from frontline medical professionals who truly understand on-the-ground realities.
The short-term goal is to rapidly build bite-sized software solutions, but the broader vision is to nurture the kind of informal relationships that predictably lead to substantial collaborations down the road. How often do we hesitate to act on our ideas not because they’re inadequate, but because we don’t know who to call to take the next step?
What can you do?
Our organizing team is already hard at work, and momentum is building — the McGill Centre for Biotech Innovation, Radialpoint, and Maclean’s magazine were early to lend us support — but we’re still looking for more hackers and medical professionals to join us, and sponsors to help support the logistics of the event.
We would be grateful to anyone in the Montréal technical and medical communities who can help spread the word.