Hackathons are all about identifying talent and matching them to resources so they can solve problems.
– Sunnie Southern, Founder & CEO at Viable Energy, Mentor at Cleveland Medical Hackathon
They called it an “adult sleepover” and a “geek weekend.” For a non-stop 24 hours, 180 clinicians, researchers, public health workers, software developers, and IT fanatics joined forces at the 3rd annual Cleveland Medical Hackathon hosted by the HIMSS Innovation Center at the downtown Global Center for Health Innovation on October 21-22.
Their goal? To propose tech solutions for the most pressing challenges in healthcare, many in the four tracks: Precision Medicine, Population Health, The Opioid Crisis and Public Health. Teams competed for more than $12,000 in cash prizes – and the opportunity to present to investors, clinicians, entrepreneurs and IT professionals at the prestigious Cleveland Clinic Medical Innovation Summit immediately following on Oct. 23-25.
Empowering the Blind
There was a huge range of ideas among the 24 presentations at the Medical Hackathon. Team “Blind Sight” from Michigan developed a lightweight head gear and pendant system to help people who are blind or visually impaired navigate through unfamiliar environments and reduce injuries. The robotic hobbyists created a sensor system using $20 in parts and “open source” technology. The head gear vibrates in specific areas as the wearer approaches objects and acts as a “digital white cane” to sense the environment and increase safety and confidence.
Project leader George Albercook was delighted with the Cleveland Medical Hackathon experience. “With any kind of invention, you’re bound to get exasperated and make slow progress. But at the hackathon, it’s a group effort and fun to be part of a team,” says Albercook. “This can impact the quality of life for the blind, and no one else is doing it. Big institutions that move the medical world will put their resources elsewhere. But in a weekend –we can do this.”
Crossing the Digital Divide
Health portals have become a leading tool in gathering and reporting medical data – but in Cleveland, 32 percent of the population doesn’t have access to the internet or a smart phone.
The “Go Go Health Portal” team aimed to bridge this “digital divide” with an SMS-based portal interface. “Even with a ‘dumb phone’ you can access your health information and appointment history by texting,” says team member Russell Ratcliffe, an independent entrepreneur and software engineer.
Go Go team member Mikey Jiang is a medical student and biomedical engineer and shared a personal story about why the project matters to him. On a mission trip to rural Peru, he couldn’t interpret the ultrasound of a 3-year-old girl with a heart murmur. “There was no wi-fi in rural Peru so we couldn’t communicate with a cardiologist. When I got back, I realized we could’ve texted the image if we had the technology. This problem isn’t unique to Peru -- it’s here in our own backyard.”
Amy Sheon is Executive Director of the Urban Health Initiative at Case Western Reserve University and was on the first committee to form the hackathon. She started the public health track and has tried to infuse the needs of underserved populations into all tracks. “If there’s a great invention but it’s only going to help 23 people, it doesn’t get judged as highly as something that’s really going to make an impact on health.” Sheon was pleased to see this year’s Opioid Challenge attract many teams to focus on the community-wide crisis. She encourages those with an interest in health IT to join the Cleveland Public Health Innovation Meet-Up.
Monitoring Heart Health in Real Time
Imagine remotely monitoring a patient’s cardiac health at home – all from a wrist band capable of sensing stress levels, oxygen in the blood and electrical activity in the heart. That’s the concept developed by Team “CrasBand” (pronounced crossband), made up of three students from Case Western Reserve University. Like a Life Alert for heart patients, it uses biosensors to deliver real-time data to alert family members and then medical professionals
After presenting to a judging panel of medical, legal and financial experts, the Case students felt they didn’t have a chance of winning. But still, sophomore Computer Science student Nsisong Udosen declared, “The hackathon was wonderful! We had to focus on the actual medical and technical validity of our product – and we had the opportunity to talk to experts in this field and other fields we’d never thought about.”
Freshman Biomedical Engineering student Josef Scheidt admitted that experts at the hackathon “broke holes in a lot of ideas we came here with… it was humbling. We had to reconstruct what we were trying to do in order to present something feasible and marketable.”
Rohan Sinha is a freshman Electrical Engineering and Economics student and agreed. “Everyone at the Medical Hackathon has a PhD in what you’re talking about or they’re practicing medicine.
It opened our eyes to see that we need to consult with doctors and nurses and learn how they think the product should work.”
Clearly, CrasBand did something right. They earned the first-place Gold Award for $7,000 and the opportunity to present the next day at the Cleveland Clinic’s prestigious Medical Innovation Summit.
The team isn’t sure where their idea is headed next; they still need to finish their undergrad education. But no doubt, they’ll continue to bring disruptive ideas to improve healthcare. “There’s a long way to go, but it’s a bright road ahead,” says Udosen with a smile.