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Bet You Didn’t Spend Your Weekend Like This

How did you spend your weekend?  At the beach or the pool? Perhaps you hosted a barbeque. Or maybe you spent it sleeping on the floor of a professional sports arena next to a few thousand strangers. If you participated in the 2015 PennApps Hackathon, that’s exactly how you would have spent your time.

Over Labor Day weekend, 1,700 students from across the world converged on Philadelphia for a 36-hour innovation competition. Representing 147 universities, 24 states and 11 counties, these students —aka hackers—were prepared to spend two-straight days ideating, innovating, learning, and camping inside the Wells Fargo Center. With an opportunity to showcase their skills by hacking in categories such as health care, education, government, and sports and entertainment, thousands of qualified, interested students applied to participate for a chance to build the best hardware and software, and win more than $60,000 in prizes.

PennApps was founded in 2009 and was the nation’s first-ever student-run Hackathon, drawing only 17 student teams for a then week-long event. Now, seven years later at the 2015 event, judges received more than 350 submissions, making this the largest Hackathon in PennApps history. And, in the second year with health care-specific judging, more than 60 health hacks were entered.

“We really didn’t have a specific health care category in the past, but we found that students were becoming more interested in hacking the health care industry,” said Linda Zhou, vice president of events for Penn HealthX, a community of Perelman School of Medicine (PSOM) students interested in health care innovation. “Having nearly 20 percent of this year’s hacks be health care-specific really tells you something about where this generation is looking to make an impact.”

In fact, many of this year’s health hacks were named winners at the PennApps Hackathon. ‘Pocket Lab,’ a diagnostic tool kit which uses an iPhone and small attachments, such as a hand held centrifuge and a mobile microscope, to allow physicians to perform various blood tests without readily available equipment, received the award for ‘Hottest Health Hack.’ ‘HeadsUp,’ a pair of cardboard goggles that use PlayStation eye cameras to track a patient's eye movements in response to stimuli as a way to more quickly diagnosis a concussion, was named ‘Best Sports and Entertainment Technology Hack,’ as well as ‘Most Innovative Embedded Application.’ And ‘Find My Health,’ a mobile app that helps those find and select the best hospitals and medical care facilities by evaluating their condition, proximity, a facility’s estimated wait-time, and quality of care, received the ‘Best Social Innovation: Building Something that Matters’ hack.

These winning college and high school students really put their minds to the test, and in some cases, they tapped into the minds of others for help.

Despite being accepted into the Hackathon and being prepared with innovative, problem-solving ideas, 36 hour is still a very a short time actually execute. And many came to Philadelphia without all of the answers, something PennApps was certainly prepared for. Assembling a panel of mentors, from physicians to data scientist to engineers, hackers had direct access to industry innovations for the opportunity to pick their brains and solicit advice on their hacks.

One mentor, David Do, MD, a neurology resident in the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania said “many of the hackers asked about the usability of their ideas, specifically relating to health care.” In fact, Do spent some time with the makers of Pocket Lab, and noted “their questions centered on whether or not there was a clinical utility behind an app that could help analyze blood samples with an iPhone and inexpensive lens.”

Other Hackathon mentors from Penn Medicine included Cory Chivers, data scientist, Michael Draugelis, chief data scientist, Damien Leri, software engineer at the Penn Medicine Center for Health Care Innovation, Lina Axanova, associate director of the Penn Center for Innovation PSOM Licensing Group, Mauricio Novelo, project manager at the PSOM, Marion Leary, MPH MSN RN, assistant director of clinical research in the Center for Resuscitation Science, and David Lindsay, medical and doctoral student at PSOM.

Do added that there are still some pressing issues in health care that need to be explored further by these hackers, such as patient education, communication, continuity, and value, noting that many hacks use the latest gadgets, cloud computing, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence, which are not always practical in the health care industry. He recommends that for future advice, hackers look to those health care professionals who may someday be using these hacks on the job.

So with many health care issues yet to be hacked, perhaps the key for the next group of winning hackers lies within bringing a medical student to the team.

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