From Friday, April 13th to Sunday April 15th, over 300 attendees gathered for one of the most anticipated events in the Greater Boston healthcare community: MIT Hacking Medicine’s fifth annual Grand Hack.
On the sixth floor of MIT’s Media Lab in Cambridge, participating teams, made up of innovators from over 21 countries and 20 states, crouched over paper-cluttered tables sketching design plans, brainstorming team names and preparing to pitch their ideas. “The ability to take a small problem-statement with a diverse team at an event like this and turn it into something that can create real impact in the local healthcare ecosystem is just so impressive and worthwhile,” Shriya Srinivasan, the current graduate co-director of MIT Hacking Medicine, says.
The Grand Hack was split into two tracks: Global Public Health, which focused on finding efficient solutions to eradicate disease worldwide (particularly in locations where access to care is limited), and Connected Health, which centered on using multi-source data to improve workplace efficiency and synergy among medical providers. The grand prize for the latter track, provided by its Gold sponsor, Intersystems, was $1,500, while the second place prize was $1,000.
The participants in the Connected Health track attempted to solve one of modern healthcare’s biggest problems: in an era of complex technology, how can we improve person-to-person communication in healthcare? “Our focus is really how we can break down barriers that currently exist across our healthcare system,” says Sivani Jonnalagadda, a Connected Health track lead and member of MIT Hacking Medicine. “With the care of a single patient being distributed across multiple providers, how can we promote synergy and cohesiveness, and how can we use multi-source data to improve transparency?”
Teams went about answering this question in a variety of ways. One team member for example, had an experience where he had to track down his pediatric physician just to get vaccine records, and decided to create a platform enabling easier patient access to electronic medical records. Another team, frustrated with the current medication reconciliation process, wanted to create an app to reduce clerical work for hospital staff. A third team, Open Genome, aimed to make open-source genomic data more operative for clinical geneticists and researchers. “There’s a wealth of genomic data available from many various sources, and the data’s very noisy,” says Rajath Salegame, a member of the group. “Our group’s thesis is basically making open source genomic data more accessible for a variety of reasons, both industry and academic.”
In order to ensure that their ideas were functional for use in professional and academic settings, teams were able to consult with a diverse array of mentors — doctors, engineers, designers, and business developers, for instance — that were individually scouted by the event organizers. Christian Lim, a director at Neurometrix as well as a mentor specializing in mechanical/electrical engineering, business, and marketing, says, “[Connected Health] is interesting; it’s more than just an app, it’s more than just a device — it’s connecting the device and the application together. For some of the companies that I’m currently working with to integrate those, it’s a challenge for them.”
In the end, the winner of the Connected Health side’s grand prize, as well as the Butterfly Network Prize for Detecting Ultrasound, was PressurEyes. Their pitch outlined a software platform that uses ultrasound to non-invasively monitor intra-ocular pressure, inspired by the significant economic inconvenience glaucoma patients face when seeking treatment. This year’s runner-up was Framily, a social app aiming to improve patient adherence to complex diabetes treatment plans. By allowing family and friends to monitor and reward the user’s progress, this tool promotes more frequent use.
Undoubtedly, the MIT Grand Hack’s Connected Health track was comprised of Boston’s biggest and brightest ideas this year. “There’s young people — students — and there’s very experienced physicians, clinicians, business people, lawyers; everyone tries to create interdisciplinary teams to get different perspectives,” says Michael Breen, senior support specialist at Intersystems. “It’s really inspiring to us: it pushes us to keep coming back to support this. It’s just a fantastic event.”
Emily NcNeiece, a sophomore Publishing major at Emerson College, brings to MedTech a lifelong passion for the written word. As a current editor for Emerson’s Generic and Atlas magazines, and a reader for The Emerson Review, Emily loves engaging through text with the world around her. In her spare time, she enjoys cross-country running, short story writing, and watching just a bit too much TV.
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