Hackathons Aren’t Just for Coders. We Can Use Them to Save Lives
Wednesday, June 11, 2014
With growing attention on medical technology “hackathons“—summits that bring together engineers, clinicians, entrepreneurs, and designers to develop innovative solutions to health problems—the conversation has turned to whether they are more hype than impact. After all, what can 250 people in a room for two days really do to solve challenges that experts over decades have been unable to address?
A lot, it turns out. They can break down walls to develop real solutions that save lives. And this is especially true in the realm of global health, where new, low-cost technologies can help to address the intractable shortage of healthcare workers in low- and middle-income countries.
Elizabeth Bailey is the Director of the Consortium for Affordable Medical Technologies (CAMTech) at Mass General Hospital’s Center for Global Health.
After organizing five medical technology (“medtech”) hackathons across three continents over the past 18 months, I’ve seen these results.
The First Big Win
Back in the fall of 2012, the Consortium for Affordable Medical Technologies (CAMTech) hosted its first hackathon at Mass General Hospital in partnership with MIT’s H@cking Medicine. After watching the first round of “pitches” with cautious interest, Dr. Data Santorino decided to put forth a challenge he’d struggled with for several years in Uganda: newborns die too frequently because of improper resuscitation techniques.
Globally, an estimated 1.8 million babies die each year on the same day they are born because they have trouble breathing. Most of those deaths are preventable and occur in developing countries. As a pediatrician working in rural Uganda, he’d seen that, despite strong training programs like Helping Babies Breathe, there were too many community health workers who aren’t able to properly use an infant bag valve mask (a handheld pump to help establish a steady flow of air). When Dr. Santorino pitched his challenge, he asked, “Can technology help solve this problem?”