I love hackathons.
I love winning them. I love competing in them. I love winning them. I love judging them. I also love not losing them.
This weekend, I am acting as a mentor to the first Health 2.0 hackathon in Houston Texas. As far as I know (which is not that far, really) this is the first hackathon in Houston to be focused exclusively on healthcare. Serving as a mentor rather than having the opportunity to directly win might seem counter intuitive, given how competitive I am. But I have had complaints about being a “professional” Health IT expert entering these contests, and as one of the organizers of the event, I do not want to be seen as unfair. This was a hard decision to me because in most cases, if I have to choose between winning and being unfair, I choose winning.. but my Houston Health 2.0 co-conspirators prevailed upon me this time…
I do well in hackathons because I know how to avoid the number one pitfall in healthcare hackathons: It is too tempting to make toys.
To really rock a Healthcare Hackathon you have to have a real strategy to build something that will make a difference, but something that you can still prototype in two days. Here are general thought strategies that have worked for me:
- Have you carefull searched the web for someone implementing your first-blush idea? The android iphone app stores? Your idea is probably not original?
- Rather than focus on original “ideas” to find “original problems”, clinician partners on your team are critical for this perspective!
- Seek problems where there is no money to made solving them. Problems that already have money already have attention, it is hard to do original work in those spaces!
- Only a few doctors are enlightened enough to pay attention to the hacking approach. How can we multiply the impact of a very few doctors?
- Most patients are not e-patients, they are reactive and unwilling or unable to change their own healthcare behaviors. How can we minimize what each patient must do, but still have an impact?
- Are there patient pain points so strong that we can rely on at least a few highly motivated beta testers?
- How can we leverage the cloud, even with HIPAA limitations?
- How can we crowd-source effectively, ensuring that every participant is evenly and instantly rewarded for contributions? How can we make crowdsourcing fun?
- How can we leverage pre-existing Open Source code or APIs? Stand on the shoulders of giants… Hello! Obvious!!
- How can I flesh out my team at a hackathon by pitching to clinical, educational, design, art or video collaborators?
- If a programming task is hard for me, can I find a geek that can do in a few minutes what it would take a whole week for me to learn?
- Getting a good idea is easy. Getting a good idea that is small enough for me to finish in two days is hard. How do I trim all the fat?
Here are some ideas that I will be pitching to participants to this weekends hacking contest. If I can find geeks with the required programming skill-sets and the team to ensure that they have the clinical and design backup that they need, I think these are all doable in two days.
Big Data on medical students:
Medical students are the only ones who understand the problems in medical school. I have designed a hack that will allow us to use big data on them directly to discover and fix the issues with our process for making doctors. I think this will require a team who can code in cross-platform Java… but a web-platform programmer could be tolerated in a pinch. SQLlite experience is a plus.
Better medical wikis
Cross the channels at health conferences
Every healthcare conference has a back channel, and in my experience at healthcare conferences, many of the real experts are in the crowd tweeting. Conversely the people who line up to ask questions at a microphone are unvetted, a tragic portion of those who ask questions are actually pitching their own projects, or exercising an obsession, or asking a stupid question (and yes… there is such a thing as a stupid question… or at least there are many morons who feel comfortable wasting my time with questions). I am pretty sure it will require something like Node or Pythons Twisted, but I think we can use Twitter to hack health conference Q&A for the better….
The calculus of pain
Simple games for fitness
I am interested in creating tools that use Geocoding and QR codes together to motivate health. I need IOS and/or Android developers for this one.
Twitter plus epatients
Lastly I am interested in the ways that e-patients tend to favor twitter and I might be interested in developing an e-patient specific twitter tool. Need to code in a web-friendly language.
Quantified Self device hacking tools
The QS community very clearly needs a specific tool that I have gotten alot of requests for. You must know either hardware interfacing (usually C or C++ for usb drivers etc) or web authentication (OAuth et al)
Do something awesome using Natural Language Interfaces.
One of the API sponsors for this hackathon is Ask Ziggy which is essentially a “Siri as an API” for app developers. Its a clever idea and there are lots of possible uses here… no specific technical requirements other than to us this API.
Do something awesome with DocGraph
This is of course, our own data set.. and you can read about it at the main DocGraph site.
Do these sound vague enough?
I hope these are pretty vague ideas. I intentionally am leaving out the critical “how” part of each idea!
I hope this list is enough to spark some interest and get developers to attend this conference. I will not be the only one pitching ideas, and teams attending with pre-baked ideas typically do well at these kinds of events. Still if you want to use my ideas, and hear me explain how to do them and why they will work then you need to meet my specific criteria. First, you must be willing to develop in the open, and under Open Source licenses. I am giving you a hackathon winning idea for no money. (and I am fairly certain, given that I have judged more health 2.0 contests than anyone else) Even if you do not win the contest, these ideas are so good that I will probably be able to make you fairly famous in the Health IT and Health 2.0 communities.
By working on my ideas you kind of hedge against losing at all. If you are able to pull of the projects, then I will give you credit publically for your awesomeness, which is valuable to anyone looking to make a name. For this valuable insurance service, I need to be able to start from where you left off if you decide to abandon the project after the hackathon… That means github and the FOSS license of your choice (I like the AGPL)
You also -must- have the skillset that I require for a given project for me to give you the details on a project. I cannot have my best ideas just “out there” for people to run off with!! I am pretty sure that I have at least one project for every kind of developer that I can think of listed above. If I could do all of these ideas myself with my programming skill set.. guess what… I would have already done them or I would save them so that I could win some other hackathon! Each of these projects leverages a very specific hack of some kind. Either hacking hardware interfaces, user expectations, software design, data levers or something like. After I describe the “how” of each project there will be an “aha/wow” moment, when you think “We didn’t I think to do that?” (Note I felt this way after seeing IFTTT for the first time). If I am handing you a “wow” world-changing hack then I have to know that you will make us both look awesome when you pull off the hack. Don’t worry if you do not have a specific skillset I define here. I have lots of other ideas based on what you are good at! This especially applies to designers and other artistic types and to clinicians!! All of these projects could use clinical/design help!!
If you have not signed up yet, then I would get over to the signup page now. So far, every Houston Health 2.0 event has sold out so far, and we expect this one too as well. I have some pretty awesome project proposals but I can tell you now that these will just be a few of the awesome ideas that we are bringing to the table for this Hackathon. Most importantly, if you already have a project in mind, then you will be able to find a team to help you hack on your project! All you need is alot of motivation, a little skill and a willingness to collaborate. Or even just one of those three would do…
Looking forward to seeing you there!!