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Who Should be Hacking Medicine?

by JoRel Nye, Executive Director of Product Management

Hackathons are a natural home for engineers and application developers, but what about passionate people with other skill sets? When it comes to the new wave of health care hackathons, we have to expand collaboration beyond the obvious participants to create innovations that overcome the challenges facing providers, payers and patients. We need expertise across a wide variety of industries and backgrounds.  

Unfortunately, the health care industry doesn’t exactly encourage innovation; the siloed information structure of health care prevents collaboration, discourages thinking outside the box, and stifles perspectives imported from other industries. This is exactly what hackathons aim to fix, to solve real-world problems during a fast-paced weekend of crazy ideas, teamwork, and inspiration.

So who should participate in health care hackathons? Some of the answers might surprise you.

Patients/ End Users
Let’s consider the group that far too few health care developers put first: patients. While the end user is always at the forefront of product development in other industries, the patient perspective can often be neglected in health care. If you’re building a patient-focused solution, include a patient advocate or an individual with extensive patient experience on your team. It’s a great way to ensure that your product directly serves patient needs.

Health Care Professionals
From front office staff to providers, these people are on the front lines of health care, dealing with the day-to-day problems first-hand. They play an essential role at a hackathon, surfacing problems a team can tackle during their weekend hack, often pointing out the unforeseen flaws in potential solutions. We need to know about the problems that affect these professionals every day but no one has yet solved. Any experience is useful, and all aspects of health care delivery are fair game.

Engineers and Developers
Now, we need the backbone – the builders who can actually turn ideas into something tangible. These are the men and women who feel most right at home in the hackathon world, and are ready to apply their skills, enthusiasm, and analytical perspective to the problems at hand.

Entrepreneurs
If you want your product to see the light of day, you need business-savvy team members at your hackathon. Entrepreneurs and business-minded professionals can assess the market, create a business model (an aspect of innovation that hackathon judges do ask about!) and pitch the product. What does the market need? What is the competition doing and how can we improve on it? How much should this product cost and how will it be produced? Someone with business or marketing experience can help answer these questions, which should be considered right up front. You don’t want to spend all weekend developing a product that can’t be sold in the real world.

Designers
Creating a good visual impression is essential to the success of your product. There is no expectation that your solution will be fully built out in 48 hours, but there is an expectation that each team will have something to show for their weekend of work. A designer is needed to mock up the website/app/device that your team wants to create. Visuals are essential for communicating how your product will work.  Don’t have a professional designer? User experience researchers, architects, and others with a critical design eye can also contribute!

Ultimately, passion and enthusiasm are the best attributes of a good hacker. Regardless of your particular brand of expertise, bring your energy, first and foremost, to the next health care hackathon in your area. 

If you are in the Austin area, we’d love to see you at the next athenahealth More Disruption Please Hackathon at our Austin office. Whether you’re a developer, entrepreneur or patient, we’d love you to join us and hack medicine July 25-26. Register today.

Follow our hackathon news and live tweets from our Austin event on Twitter at #MDPhack


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