Solving self-care by hacking health ideas

The University of Auckland and Health Informatics New Zealand (HiNZ) are organising a 'health hackathon' next month to encourage the development of new concepts and technologies for people self-managing health issues.

Hackathons are a popular way for the software community to thrash out new ideas but they are now being extended to other sectors such as local government and healthcare to explore different concepts that can be aided by technology.

University of Auckland senior lecturer in health informatics Karen Day said the hackathon aimed to stimulate innovative thinking about technology solutions for people with long-term health issues to help them track and record their healthcare plan, progress and outcomes to improve their overall wellbeing.

It is open to anyone interested in helping to solve the problem, including software developers, clinicians, health service managers and people living with long-term health issues themselves.

While there is a burgeoning market in health-related apps, and clinical groups and software developers are increasingly developing solutions for specific health issues, Dr Day said these weren't always focused on the people who needed to use them.

“One of my bugbears is that a lot of these apps and solutions are created by clinical people with them believing that they know what patients want and need,” Dr Day said.

“That is a very Apple approach – 'the customer doesn't know, the customer is wrong, we'll tell the customer what they want and give it to them'. But there are lots of people out there with long-term health issues who have learned how to do self-management and they need technologies to suit them, not technologies that the clinicians have decided are good for them.

“They need technologies that are good for the problems they are dealing with themselves. If you have a problem, then be part of the solution is my approach.”

At the hackathon, the organisers are interested in ensuring that solutions are developed from multiple perspectives, not just the developer and the clinician. “We'd like to see a mix,” Dr Day said. “We're not fussy about the platform – we are just interested to see what people come up with.”

Participants are asked to bring themselves and their computer or laptop or tablet along to a Friday evening session to kick off the weekend hackathon and pitch ideas and hear the ideas of everyone else. Participants will then form into groups to thrash out the idea over the weekend, assisted by mentors and experts who can point them in the right direction.

Dr Day said one of the differences between this concept and competitions such as the Clinicians Challenge was that hackathons had a group structure rather than an individual one.

“The Clinicians's Challenge is often a solitary endeavour,” she said. “One or two people might get together and write a challenge but it doesn't necessarily take into account multiple points of view.

“One of the criticisms is that people will be working in their own cocoon and they'll come up with a challenge only to find out afterwards that somebody has already thought of it. We are going to have mentors and experts and the judges and they'll already know what the landscape is out there and they can help shift an idea into a niche where something is not happening or help them to create something that is bigger and better than what is already available.”

The judging criteria include clinical appropriateness and accuracy, consumer needs, software design, and commercial potential, the latter of which is an important element, she said. “This is applied, practical stuff. Often an idea seems like a pie in the sky but it grows legs and starts to do something.”

Dr Day and her co-investigator Gayl Humphrey, a research fellow at the National Institute for Health Innovation (NIHI), will also be conducting research into the hackathon, titled ‘Stimulating innovative self-care solutions: Health hackathon as case study’.

The judges will declare a winner on the Sunday with all presentations recorded and posted to the HiNZ website that will be open to voting from the public to determine a 'People's Winner'.

The Health Hackathon: Solving Self-care workshop is being held at the University of Auckland's Tāmaki Innovation Campus in Auckland from 6pm on February 13 through to 4pm on February 15. See the University of Auckland website for registration details.

Posted in New Zealand eHealth


0 # Jodie 2015-01-24 12:10
Your article is a great example of its own point that people with long-term health issues need to have "technologies to suit them, not technologies that the clinicians have decided are good for them" and "these weren't always focused on the people who needed to use them".

The workshop is " open to ... people living with long-term health issues themselves". Then the article goes on to say that "Participants are asked to bring themselves and their computer or laptop or tablet along to a Friday evening session" .

May I suggest that for many people with long-term health issues such as chronic illness (myself included) that the fatigue created by such conditions prevents going out in the evening. People who have chronic illnesses who are unable to maintain full time employment are also highly likely to be living on a low income and not have financial access to the computer technologies your workshop is expecting of them; e.g. laptops and tablets. I am curious to know exactly who this workshop is aimed at if it isn't just clinicians and technicians.
0 # Karen Day 2015-02-02 11:18
At the very least, the people who will be writing software will need to bring along their own computer so that they can do the software writing. Each team is expected to have a software writer. If you’re not a software writer in a team that interests you, you don’t need to bring along a computer.

If you have a tablet or phone that can access the Internet via wifi we will provide that wifi access so that you can look up things on the Internet if you get the urge.

The rest of each team should consist of people with health issues, clinicians and others who are interested in the solution being developed. If you have something to offer a team but you can’t stay the whole time, don’t worry. Let the team know when you’re available and come and go as you need to.

The ‘patient’s voice’ is often not heard in the development of new technologies – your contribution in whatever form you’re able to give it, is welcome.

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