On Friday, undergraduate Selin Isgüven ’15 entered the Hacking Health @ Yale without a team, a project or any inkling of what health care problem she was going to hack. But by Sunday evening, her team had come up with an idea of how to give earlier, more cost-effective diagnoses to patients with Alzheimer’s.
The event, which is in its first year, is modeled off of MIT Hacking Medicine and took place over three days in the School of Medicine, Center for Engineering Innovation and Design and the School of Management. The Hackathon’s 70 participants came from a breadth of fields, including law, business, medicine, engineering and design. But everyone was there for the same purpose — to find a solution to issues facing health care in the U.S.
“It tends to be difficult working in health care because often doctors are working within their own four walls and there is a lack of collaboration,” said Shervin Etemad, a research associate in the School of Medicine’s obstetrics and gynecology department and an event organizer. “We wanted to break down those inter-professional boundaries.”
Coordinators began planning the hackathon over a month and a half ago, said Jean Zheng, engineering director of the Yale Center for Biomedical and Interventional Technology and the event’s director. Organizers received many of their materials and slides from MIT’s hackathon. Zheng said she hopes that the Yale hackathon can foster similar developments to that at MIT, with winning teams moving on to make their projects a reality.
Ayesha Khalid, one of the student organizers of MIT Hacking Medicine, said that the school’s hackathon has been the inspiration for the creation of a number of businesses. She cited PillPack, a company that delivers prepackaged daily medicine regiments to patients — a service especially important for those on multiple medications and the elderly — as an example.
In contrast to MIT’s hackathon, which is run solely by students, Yale’s brought together a pre-existing infrastructure of faculty mentors, center directors and science and engineering resources, Khalid said.
Zheng and Etemad agreed that they would like to engage a larger community in next year’s health hackathon. Zheng said the organizers had to turn away about 85 people from the greater Connecticut area, including University of Connecticut students and employees of local biotechnology companies, because they did not have CEID access. Access to the center was one of the hackathon’s participation requirements.
The event consisted of three stages. First, over 40 problem pitches were delivered to participants on Friday evening. The pitches, which had to be less than one minute in length, ranged from children with diabetes unwilling to test their blood sugar levels to the cost and effort cancer patients have to incur to get a second medical opinion.
In the second stage, participants broke into smaller teams on to choose and deliberate on their problems. Finally, participants created prototypes of inventions in the CEID, working with the Center’s engineering resources. They then presented their solutions in front of a panel of judges at the School of Management.
One of the groups, Team BestCare, tried to tackle the expenses, time and effort cancer patients have to endure to get a second medical opinion. With Team BestCare’s iPhone app — which places the patient’s information, condition status and insurance provider into an algorithm — they can find the closest and most accessible doctor who will also accept their insurance provider. The app would also transfer patients’ medical records between their various health care providers.
Meanwhile, the winning team created a new instrument for noninvasive stent removal. After kidney transplants, patients have a stent placed in their bladder. When stents are later removed, patients find themselves undergoing uncomfortable and often expensive procedures. Team NISR’s invention, a surgical device three times smaller than the one currently used, would significantly decrease discomfort for patients and cut the procedure’s costs in half.
Another group, Bumble Beetics, in response to children’s aversion to daily blood sugar tests, invented a diabetes meter that doubles as a game.
Isgüven, whose project focused on detecting Alzheimer’s disease through continued temperature monitoring, said she was happy about the diversity of participants and loved working in the CEID on actually hacking.
“We were lucky to have input from practicing physicians and other health care providers as they shared their experience and directed us toward areas that they knew would benefit from solutions,” she said. “I guess that’s the importance on the global scale, the problems we tackled were real-world and universal problems that required a holistic approach.”
The hackathon was hosted by InnovateHealth Yale and CBIT.
Correction: Oct. 20
A previous version of this article misstated the role of Ayesha Khalid in organizing the MIT Hacking Machine and the number of people that Yale’s hackathon had to turn away this year. The article also incorrectly stated that a group, Bumble Beetics, invented a video game diabetes meter, when in fact, the game is not a video game. In addition, the article misspelled the word “stent.”