Participant Perspectives on the Samsung-MGH Mobile Health Hackathon

The Innovation Challenge by Samsung Electronics, Co. Ltd. in collaboration with Massachusetts General Hospital and MIT Hacking Medicine on November 7th and 8th, 2014 was a resounding success!  Check out reflections by two of our participants:


               Innovations in healthcare will define our society in this century. And events like hackathons play a critical role in enabling that future. As a first time hacker, it was overwhelming to see so much creativity and drive to induce a change, to make an impact, to innovate. From 100 scattered individuals to 25 actionable ideas in under 30 hours – that is amazing. It speaks volumes about what a band of multi-disciplined minds can achieve when they act in unison to address a specific pain-point. 

                Having worked in a corporate research lab for five years, I know first hand how challenging it can be to bring people to agree to a problem, let alone innovate a solution. I have seen three barriers to group creativity: (a) Individuals who are inherently protective of their ideas, married to their philosophies and threatened by change, (b) Executive management that incentivizes behavior to confirm to a system, does not promote bottom-up creativity but rewards top-down restructuring, and (c) Organization culture that is dedicated to speed of execution, to reduce their time-to-market, at the cost of innovation. At the hackathon, we had none of these. 

                The individuals that came to the hackathon were determined to make a difference. Not everyone that got selected had a problem to pitch – that was a fantastic design. Because when only 25 individuals pitched a problem, 75 others were listening intently. So we banded together. Who would have thought that a diverse group of software programmers, clinicians, user experience strategist and an engineer post-doc would win two awards in the same night. But we did! What brought us together was the problem statement, a concurred vision that was worth fighting for, and a belief that it would have significant impact for the hospital. Before we split on the first night, we named our team, shared our contact info and set out a gameplan for the next day.

                The day of the hackathon was electric – from start to finish. Our first step was to assess whether our senior executives i.e. mentors would align with us or would they rather steer us in a different direction. To our surprise, they jumped on us (in a good way!). Five minutes into the conversation, they reaffirmed how real the problem was and the ramifications it would have if solved. We were talking analogies and extrapolating into the future. Those fifteen minutes energized us for the remainder of the day – just the kind of management we desire to stay motivated, focused and creative. We still had a long day ahead of us and I can summarize our activities into four phases: (1) Group huddle to spend “a day in the life of Anne”. (2) Break group into two: strategic and technical (3) Regroup to discuss technical solution and check whether it aligned with the user groups (3) Solicit feedback from technical and pitch mentors (4) Build, Build, Build – Build a demo, Build a business model, Build a pitch.

                I remember at the start of the day I was kind of worried whether we were too big a team (8 members). In retrospect, we could not have done without each of them. And we improvised and adapted very quickly as the day progressed. The round-table format was not working for us to discuss and understand the needs and requirements of our target user – too many distractions (laptops, cellphones) and not enough proximity. So we left our tables, our gadgets, took our pens, notepads, poster-its, and went to the wall and floor. We huddled together on our knees with our heads down and that helped us cut out the rest of the room. Every now and then, one or two of us would take a walk – just to collect our thoughts. We broke into smaller groups to discuss/achieve specific tasks separately and regrouped to piece together our perspectives and solution as a whole. We signed up for the practice pitch early on – one of the best decisions we made. We absolutely failed at the pitch practice session. It was an eye opener, to say the least. We understood immediately that we had to get our message out in a clear, brief and complete fashion – all within 3 minutes. So we scripted it – word by word, line by line, and timed it until we got it right. Like I said, it was electric!

                It’s been four days since the event, and we are still reeling from the adrenalin rush. But this is just the beginning. As I sit back, there’s one overriding thought that I have: why isn’t everyone already doing this? Every organization needs this: our schools, our hospitals, our corporates, and academic research centers (even more so, I would say). So to the MIT Hackathon Organizing Team, I say: KUDOS, for being such a wonderful catalyst. I am told that this particular event was organized in just under 18 days. Congratulations! Keep doing it, over and over again. Do not turn down anyone who comes to you asking for help. Do not stop, ever. To the Hackers, I say: BRAVO, what an idea! Now go out there and build it. We will see you in Round 2.

Gautam Goel, Postdoctoral Associate at MGH Center for Computational & Integrative Biology 


               I believe there are two things that make innovation and entrepreneurship potentially difficult for physicians. The first is experience. For better or worse, in many ways medical training is antithetical to start up culture. Overcoming this inherent structure can be difficult. The other is access to talent. As physicians, we spend the vast majority of our time within the healthcare framework with other medical professionals. But healthcare technology innovation and its successful commercialization requires a confluence of engineering, business and medical expertise. For those with the inclination, MIT Hacking Medicine provides a very efficient venue to explore innovation with like-minded individuals from diverse backgrounds. Participating in the MIT Hacking Medicine Hackathon at MGH in collaboration with Samsung revealed how powerful the right setting can be in facilitating the innovation process. The conversations, thought experiments and prototyping that took place at this event were truly unique and valuable experiences. It is hard to imagine a more fertile ground for finding talented people or cultivating innovative ideas over such a short period of time. I highly recommend MIT Hacking Medicine hackathon for those interested in healthcare innovation. 

Raymond Hwang, M.D., M.Eng, MBA


 

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