Learnings from Our Hospital’s First Hackathon

March 14, 2014

Brigham and Women’s Hospital, based in Boston, has always been a leader in healthcare innovation. But there has never been a focused center to support innovation efforts through resources, connections and advisory services. The Innovation Hub (iHub) was launched out of strategic planning work in which the hospital identified “innovation and discovery” as a key strategic initiative. After more than a year of planning, the iHub was officially launched at our first hackathon, over a weekend in September 2013. You can see the event agenda here.

We had no expectations, but we did have hopes of what might come out of it. We hoped that we might get a couple of good ideas, and start to create a more vibrant community among our clinicians and researchers, and entrepreneurs and scientists outside the hospital.

We asked people to focus on one of three themes:

  1. The patient and family experience
  2. Chronic disease management in the outpatient setting
  3. Modernizing the practice of evidence-based medicine

We kept it IP free — we didn’t assert any claims of ownership over what was developed. Whatever you come up with at a hackathon is so early-stage, you don’t really need to own the IP.

In terms of attendance, we knew we needed clinicians and also the MIT community. Zen Chu and his group, Hacking Medicine, brought the MIT community. Engaging clinicians who work here required some internal energy and communications before the event.

We had 150 people show up on the first full day, a Saturday. Some people were just curious, and some came from other hospitals, just to see what was going on. We only had space for about 120 people who were going to stay and work on projects. They came up with 54 ideas, and turned those into 17 different projects. Six of those won prizes. Our COO, Mairead Hickey, presented the awards at the judging. The fact that she was there impressed a lot of people, and it was good for her to see the energy and excitement.

Two of the 17 projects got into healthcare/tech accelerator programs. HermesIQ is at Techstars, and Twiage (pictured at right) is at Blueprint Health. One project, Ringleader (pictured below), is being formally supported by my group, iHub, to move it toward commercialization. They are developing a low cost wearable device that helps patients monitor heart health, and reduce hospital imaging-test costs for low-risk patients. They were the winner of the iHub prize, and the prize was for us to help move your idea forward. We have a call with them every two weeks, we’re making introductions, helping them think about IP, and helping them create a business model.

The biggest benefits for us were:

  • Creating awareness of an innovation movement internally.
  • Proving to leadership/skeptics that there was demand for this kind of work — demand for new ideas and the potential for commercialization of those ideas.
  • Creating some initial momentum that has done wonders at bringing innovators together.
  • Bringing people from the outside in who can contribute skills and knowledge other than what we have internally — engineers and clinicians and coders.
  • Helping to enhance Brigham & Women’s reputation as an innovator.
  • We had 3 different themes for the day. I think we would limit it to one theme or eliminate themes. People didn’t really focus on them anyway.
  • Mentors: We would have a point person who would connect with all of the mentors on site. (The mentors were experienced healthcare professionals, as well as people from the local business and venture capital community, who came in to advise and assist the teams.) That person would know about all the projects being worked on. And that person’s role would be to connect the right mentors with the right teams.
  • We had 1/3 clinicians, 1/3 developers/programmers, and 1/3 other (business, designers, etc.) We felt like that was the right mix for future events.
  • We required all of the participants needed to be there for the entire weekend. That’s hard for a more senior clinician with family/kids. I might open it up next time, and let clinicians pitch pain points and stick around to educate a team about the pain point, but allow them come in and out as needed.

If you have questions about our experience, feel free to post them as a comment and I’ll respond…

Lesley Solomon is Strategy & Innovation Director, Biomedical Research Institute at Brigham & Women’s Hospital