You’ve seen all the amazing hospital-based hackathons in Boston where the Boston community is trying to find innovative healthcare solutions. You were at the BWH iHub hackathon. Then the Hacking Pediatrics hackathon. Perhaps you’re at the Harvard iLab H3 hackathon this weekend that is co-hosted by MIT Hacking Medicine and the Massachusetts General Hospital Medical Device Plug and Play.
And you’re confused… What is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology(MIT) H@cking Medicine? Who is involved in this group? What do they do?
And perhaps you’re new to hackathons? What are they? What is a “pitch”? Who gives a pitch? What is a “pain point”? What are the goals of hackathons?
Andrea Ippolito, co-leader of MIT Hacking Medicine, talks with us about what MIT Hacking Medicine is, what a pain point is, what a pitch is, and what a hackathon is—and how all of this is working towards disruptive solutions in medicine and healthcare.
What is MIT Hacking Medicine?
MIT Hacking Medicine‘s mission is to bring together engineers, entrepreneurs, clinicians, scientists, and designers in and around the MIT and Boston healthcare ecosystem to hack on disruptive solutions in healthcare and medicine.
How did MIT Hacking Medicine get started?
The godfathers of MIT Hacking Medicine are faculty advisers Zen Chu (Entrepreneur in Residence and Senior Lecturer at MIT) and now graduated MIT Sloan student Elliot Cohen (Co-Founder and CTO of PillPack).
What are hackathons?
The landmark events that we started with were these hackathons. They were built out of the MIT Media Lab. The first event was about two years ago. Hackathons typically take place over 2-3 days. There is usually a social event the night before in order to bring together these diverse stakeholders.
Why are there pitches? What is a “pitch”?
Really the foundation of what we do at these hackathons is “pitches.” We really try to emphasize folks pitching “pain points” in healthcare and medicine. Anybody who attends these hackathons can go in front of the crowd and give a short pitch, usually 2-3 minutes long. The pitch is a description of a problem that he or she sees in healthcare and medicine that is particularly painful and needs fixing. Usually the pitch (or complaint) will really resonate with different members of the crowd. And a team will form around the pitch, or the problem that everyone is interested in solving.
What is a “pain point”?
A pain point is just as it sounds. It is one small reoccurring situation that is particularly painful, or annoying. For example, from a patient’s perspective, why are doctor’s waiting rooms always so ugly? Why can’t doctor’s appointments start on time? From a doctor’s perspective, why do I have to fill out 3 unknown insurance forms to get my patient’s their standard of care blood pressure medication? The thing about healthcare is that we’re all consumers of it. And everyone has this shared experience of a pain point that they’ve felt while consuming healthcare.
What is the purpose of forming teams around these pitches?
The goal is to create an environment with enough support where these teams (usually pitched by clinicians) can really dive deep into the problems, be matched with right innovative people (scientists, engineers, designers, and entrepreneurs) who provide solutions, and then work on the solution enough to have a product to demo at the end.
What is an example of a pain point leading to a pitch at a hackathon that then lead to a solution?
In our February 2012 hack, a physician pitched about having two types of work flow days—slow and under booked and crazy hectic and overbooked. The slow days occur when patients no-show or cancel at the last minute, and thus he has big holes in his schedule. Because of these types of days, a clinic will often overbook, booking 2 to 3 patients for one appointment. This leads to the hectic overbooked days. Then there are long wait times for patients, and the physician is trying to see his patient in a much shorter time than he’d like.
Just because of this pitch, a data scientist came up to him and said, “You know, you can use machine learning algorithms to predict whether a patient is going to show up or not. There are a number of key predictors out there—such as gender, type of appointment, and even day of the week. (Okay, did we really need a machine to tell us that patients are less likely to show up on Friday afternoons for a rash when it rains?) There are actually 40-50 key predictors.
Based on this hackathon, they were able to develop a prototype, and then went on to form a company that I helped co-found, called Smart Scheduling.
What does MIT Hacking Medicine have planned for the future?
Now, we’re starting to think about what events and programming we can do to support these entrepreneurs who are really interested in this field of disruptive solutions in medicine and digital health. One event that we’ve recently piloted is the Physician B*tch Fest, where we match physicians with engineers. We create a space that allows physicians to really discuss what could be better. And then we encourage them to go deeper and think about creative solutions.
My passion is healthcare optimization, whether that is with innovation, making scientific discoveries, or improving delivery. I love bringing people and ideas together and making projects work. With this, medicine exists to improve lives, and I will strive to always help patients and those around me.
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