News Feature | April 30, 2014

Lessons From A Healthcare Hackathon

By Megan Williams, contributing writer

Healthcare Hackathon

Hackathons were born straight out of the software-coding community, but do they hold any lessons for VARs? If a vendor is interested in staying on top of where their industry is headed — then yes.

Despite the fact that hackathons are relatively new, and healthcare tends to lag behind most other fields when it comes to tech, the industry has been the focus of quite a few events already — New York-Presbyterian Hospital and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston have all hosted events. MIT has also co-sponsored health hackathons in India, Spain, and Uganda.

Here are a few take-aways from MIT’s most recent event, Hacking Medicine's Grand Hackfest.

Change Is Slow And Cultures Can Clash: The goal of hackathons is not to simply overwrite healthcare culture with fast and innovative practices from Silicon Valley. Instead, the events aim to blend the two, hopefully bringing the best of both worlds together. "We are not trying to replace the medical culture with Facebook culture ... But we want to try to blend them more, " says Elliot Cohen, founder and CTO at PillPack, a pharmacy that sends personalized prescription packages to its customers. (PillPack started at a hackathon.)

What does that mean for vendors? Be aware that you’re walking a line between two very different cultures. The good thing though, is that your experience in healthcare and technology will likely have you prepared to handle some of the inherent conflicts.

Don’t Get Caught Up In The Hype: While lots of brilliant ideas can come out of hackathons, innovators are frequently removed from both the problem itself, and the realities of implementation. Ned McCague, data scientist with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, brought his years of experience to serve as a mentor at the MIT event. “They have a good idea and are excited about it, but they haven't thought about who is paying for it,'' he’s quoted as saying.

As a vendor, it can be tempting to latch onto any up and coming company in healthcare innovation, but it will be to your advantage to know how well-vetted their ideas are, and also to be aware of the reactions and perceptions of healthcare clients who are actually using the solutions.

Keep Your Options Open: Healthcare is an incredibly diverse industry. It might be easy to see only a group of coding college students and think there’s little potential for opportunity for your business. That’s a mistake though, as the problems they’re solving range from supply chain issues to facial recognition solutions and everything in between. Opportunities will become evident to solutions providers who stay aware and who can match innovations with the solutions their clients are looking for.