How do you hack medical education? Over the course of 36 hours, 18 teams brainstormed technological innovations to solve problems in medical education at the MedStart hackathon, run by students in the MD/MBA program at the Tufts School of Medicine. The weekend marathon culminated on February 1, 2015 in 3-minute final presentations from the more than 100 participants, followed by 2-minute Q&As for each group, and prizes awarded by a panel of judges.
“SimVR,” the team that took home the first place prize, won for their vision of using virtual reality training to improve the teaching of clinical communication and professionalism. Over the course of the hackathon, they created a simulation that showed the viewer pushing a gurney down the hallway and encountering a rude colleague. The simulation pauses and gives the viewer four response options. This tests the clinician’s communication impulses in a realistic setting, mimicking the high-stress and fast-paced environment of the hospital. The team presented this as a behavior modification tool that would be more effective and less expensive than the current seminars used to train health professionals.
As the first place winner, SimVR received $2500, a month of free incubation at the MD Idea Lab, a meeting with venture capitalist Neil Chheda, and an extra surprise—Dell tablets, courtesy of Major League Hacking. “It sounds too cocky, but I already told the team this morning that we had won,” said Naren Gupta, a vascular surgeon, assistant professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School and a member of team SimVR. Gupta presented SimVR’s ideas at the final pitch off. “Even before the presentations began, I knew we had gone from just an idea to a technical reality and great product, and winning was just the icing on the cake.”
Like many of the other teams in the hackathon, team SimVR brought diverse knowledge from health professionals, business developers and engineers. One team member, Angela Robert, CEO of Conquer Mobile, flew in from Vancouver to lend her expertise in virtual reality and the use of technology to build social intelligence. Another, Peter Rotkiewicz, is part of the Boston Virtual Reality Meetup group. He pulled an all-nighter at the event, coding the virtual reality demo using Oculus Rift for the presentation.
The second place prize of $1000 went to “CHEA,” an idea presented by John Morris, a high school science teacher who identified himself as a parent of a medically complex child. He teamed up with a pediatrician, Dr. Erik von Hahn, to create a web-based parent-provider solution for monitoring a chronically ill child. The solution would help parents collect better health information about their child and convey it securely to the doctor for instant feedback.
“I try to do as much parent advocacy work as I can,” said Morris, who also participated in the Hacking Pediatrics hackathon in October 2014. Morris watched Dr. Hahn pitch his idea and instantly connected with it. “I don’t just want CHEA to go forward, I need it to go forward. It has to. From personal experience, I can’t imagine how different our last few years would have been if we had something like this.”
Team “Uptake” took home both the third place prize of $750 and the “peer prize,” which was a trip to Seoul to compete in its summer Global Hackathon with over 2,000 other participants, chosen by a vote cast by all teams. Uptake is an automatic note-taking program that a team of Tufts students demonstrated via a prototype they built over the course of the 36-hour hackathon, staying up till at least 5am on the last day to complete it. Uptake would record a lecture and create a written document with a summary of important points and themes. At the end of their 3-minute presentation, the team showed how they had been using Uptake to synthesize notes from everything they had just said, and in a meta demonstration, they displayed a bullet point summary of take-away points.
Resources like Myo armbands and Oculus Rift were available for team use at the hackathon. The Myo armband, a device developed by Thalmic labs that uses muscle activity and EMG signals produced by motion and gestures to control digital devices, was used by two of the teams in the hackathon. Team “MoveMed” received the Myo prize, including a set of armbands to continue to develop their idea. They planned to employ the Myo armband to coach medical students and residents in proper techniques for reducing the incidence of dental damage during intubation of patients.
“The fact that we can get medical students, at this stage of their lives, to start thinking about how to change healthcare is amazing” said Dr.Joe Jabre, CEO at TeleEMG, neurologist, and former MD/MBA director at Tufts. He also served as one of the judges for the hackathon. “This is the kind of stuff that is not part of the traditional medical school curriculum. But you will not survive as a healthcare provider unless you start thinking this way.”
Guest speaker Nick Dougherty, co-founder and CEO of VerbalCare, gave parting advice to the hackathon participants. “Ideas are great, but execution is everything,” he said. “You don’t need to win right away to be a winner.”
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