Hacker Heaven

‘Hackathon’ to Develop Health Care Tools

Health care professionals and technology experts spent last weekend designing solutions to problems plaguing the medical community.

Hacking Health—called a “hackathon” due to the marathon-like endurance needed to compete—hosted over 40 health care professionals and 160 computer programmers and engineers who joined forces to attack technologically neglected issues in the health care industry.

The Accessible Montreal team came in first place with their idea for mapping wheelchair-accessible buildings in Montreal.

In second place, Rapid Assessment of 3D Surface Area Using Kinect—a working title—used the Xbox Kinect’s three-dimensional scanner to give more precise readings on burn victims.

In third place, Tame Type II created a smart phone application to monitor blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetes patients.

All three teams received $400 and an invitation by the Business Development Bank of Canada for consultation on how to turn their projects into viable start-ups.

The all-night programming marathons to create new and innovative technology—called Hackathons—are usually about creating new applications for social media or online games. Hacking Health is the first Hackathon in Canada to focus on finding solutions to problems related to health care.

“Typically, health care and health care professionals are very slow to adopt technology unless it’s big things like imaging. I think its super cool that we’re able to work with such smart people like engineers and computer [scientists], just to get this device out there,” said Jenny Basran, a geriatrician from Saskatoon who received honourable mention for her iCaregiver app, which networks daily reminders between dementia sufferers and their caregivers.  

Organizers were expecting a turnout of roughly 150 audience members over two days, but were surprised by the popularity of the event, which exceeded 200 in attendance on both days.

Jeeshan Chowdhurry, a co-founder of Hacking Health and a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Alberta and Oxford, was thrilled with the success of the event.

“It really is an experiment to put doctors with hackers and see what happens and clearly it worked. So now our long term goal is to support these teams, nurture them and give them support so that they can form start-ups or non-profits [and] go forward in delivering saleable solutions to health,” said Chowdburry.

Health care professionals—who came from as far away as Edmonton pitched their ideas on Feb. 24—then pulled together teams of web designers, coders, software engineers and computer scientists. The teams spent the next 24 hours developing a prototype of the original idea and presented them the following night.

“You work in a really short period of time to build something: the prototype [of] an idea,” said Andrew Cleland, a McGill law student and one of 11 co-founders of Hacking Health. “It’s about fostering entrepreneurship and innovation.”
Hacking Health will be traveling across Canada and repeating the Hackathon in major cities. Their next stop is Ottawa.