5 Steps to Make the Most of DigitalHealth Hackathons

Hack-a-thons have been a bit of a big deal for a while in the tech community and especially when it comes to mobile. Whether it’s creating apps, leveraging new ways of looking at data or building on an existing API they epitomise a concentrated burst of innovative activity.

And now? They’re happening in healthcare.

Whether you call them hackdays, hack-a-thons, code-a-thons or whatever I think it’s pretty clear that they’re becoming an intrinsic part of the digital health movement. We’ve got problems to solve and there’s a growing, diverse community that wants to come together to solve them. Today’s guide is a primer about how to make the most of a hack-a-thon no matter what your background is small, large, medics, non-medics, developers or non-developers. We all have something to contribute so let’s get started!

1. Research

Be true to yourself. The number of hack-a-thons in healthcare are growing and you won’t have the time and energy to pursue them all. You need to maximise your opportunities so spend time researching the different types of events and their objectives. Some events are highly technically orientated whilst others are more focused on building diverse teams and communities rather than focusing on the development itself.

Others are diverse but are targeted at using a specific piece of kit, developing a specific product (e.g. an app) or  addressing a specific disease/clinical problem. Try to choose something that really rings true with your personal views that you can be passionate about. Trust me, on the day people will see it and it’ll make a big difference.

2. Be Open-Minded

The beauty of hack-a-thon is the diversity of people there. You don’t need to be able to code or have a healthcare background to get something out of it.

– If you’re a patient then you know more than anyone what it’s like to be through the healthcare system. It’s all for you after all!

– If you’re a doctor then you’re probably going to end up using one of these apps so you can guide developers about how to create useful, user-friendly and clinically effective products.

– If you’re part of hospital management then your input is invaluable about how to create products and solutions that can realistically fit into hospital infrastructure and budgets. You can pinpoint economically important problems and solutions.

– If you’re an investor or serial entrepreneur then you’ll have a keen eye for commercially viable opportunities. You could guide so many teams when thinking about how to solve problems and to build them so that they’re scalable.

– And of course where would we be without the developers. You’re the lifeblood that makes this whole thing tick!

There are literally so many great people who can contribute to a hack-a-thon so don’t let your background hold you back. It’s the BEST thing about you.

3. Network, Network, Network

At some point you’re going to form teams. You might even have come to an event as a team (hopefully not!).

But you see all the people I’ve listed above? You need to talk and listen to all the people that DON’T as well as do share your background. It’s that diversity of discussion that will generate the most innovative and effective ideas. Try to work with new people wherever possible. It won’t just create better outcomes but it will improve your teamwork, communication and leadership skills.

And who knows? You might just meet your next co-founder or two…

4. Share

The whole point of a hack-a-thon is pushing the boundaries of what we think is possible by bringing together different ideas, perspectives and expertise to solve some of the greatest healthcare problems. If the solution already existed then we wouldn’t be having an event would we? So no matter how abstract or impossible an idea sounds in your head it’s probably far more realistic than you think so put it out there!

Now no-one is telling you to give away the IP to ideas you might already have but sharing new ideas and perspectives, especially within your team, are key to the success of a hack-a-thon. Sharing your existing ideas with people from a diverse range of backgrounds can open up opportunities you might never have considered.

All ideas matter. All ideas count. So share!

5. Follow-Up

This is possibly the most important piece of advice I can give. You’ve had a great event, met some great people and generated some viable solutions. Make sure, to exchange contact details with everyone you meet and to follow-up a couple of days after an event. When it’s all said and done a hack-a-thon is a social event and even though you might not have created a barn-storming product you should have connected with people from a range of backgrounds that you could potentially work with in the future.

As I always say. Technology becomes obsolete. The true value comes from people coming together in teams with a shared goal.

Keep the momentum going after an event. You never know where it’ll take you.

Have Fun!

So that’s a whistle-stop tour of how to make the most of a hack-a-thon. I’m sure some fantastic digital health startups will be born out of these events in the months and years to come and I also hope we’ll solve some of the current challenges facing patients and doctors today.

One last thing, don’t try to boil the ocean. Enjoy the process, make some new friends and, above all, have fun!

If you enjoyed this article make sure to ReTweet it and if you have any comments you can Tweet me – @Saif_Abed

Dr Saif F Abed
Founding Partner
AbedGraham Healthcare Strategies Ltd