Hacking Health – UC Berkeley: Version 2.0

Hacking Health wrapped up its sold out event with $4,000 in cash prizes to some of the most creative digital health innovators in the San Francisco Bay Area.  For the second year in a row, UC Berkeley’s digital health hackathon took over the Skydeck Accelerator with innovative solutions to big health information challenges.  The event gave participants a chance to meet key players in health infotech, develop portfolio pieces, and connect with like-minded individuals engineering sustainability into 21st century healthcare.

At a place like UC Berkeley, talented people from across campus often never meet each other. Our academic world often prioritizes specialization at the expense of collaborative problem solving – not unlike in healthcare.  To combat this phenomenon, each year Hacking Health rattles campus and industry silos to connect young leaders from all over Cal and the Bay Area for a weekend of rapid health design.  Events like this not only build community relations, but also enabled people to recruit their own digital health dream-teams and accelerate their vision.

Case in point:  Last year, one attendee, Sean Ahrens, came as a sole developer in Rock Health’s accelerator program.  He showcased Crohnology.com, a social network for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) patients.  And through the process, he made connections to folks who gave him space at Skydeck, met a co-founder and ultimately positioned his new startup to become seed funded by Y-Combinator.

Inspired by stories like Sean’s, we doubled down and put on the biggest digital health event on campus.

First, the good stuff.  And the winners are…

Grand Prize: Immutrac – Building off of cell phones RFID tags, the team built the functional skeleton of an app to track vaccination patterns in rural India.  With hundreds of millions of people living far from urban centers, and exposed to virulent and often deadly diseases, vaccination tracking in the developing world is a massive health information problem. 

Many of these people live on less than $1 / day, but the use of simple feature phones has skyrocketed in the last decade.  Healthcare workers and NGOs could hand out Immutrac’s tags to families when their first child was born, and with a touch of one RFID tag to another, immunization records could be pinged between phones at each new vaccination.  True, the team came in with the tags, but they built out the connectivity feature transferring the data and a website aggregating the data to enable fast insight into population immunity during outbreaks.  More work on the app’s interface would be critical for data entry by health workers, but it was an elegant approach to a massive world health challenge.

Genentech Special Innovation Challenge: DoubleYou – In response to Genentech’s challenge to create a better platform for collecting quality of life data in children, Double You invoked the spirit of the ancient Tamagotchi (remember those little guys from the 90s?), with gamified data collection for clinical trials.

Keeping the “Double You,” a colorful bubbly character with tiny fins and changing moods, pretty and pink, required answering several questions a day.  Combined with their development on the BodyMedia armband sensor to collect data on calorie burn and sleep patterns, the app promised to ease the burden on patients providing quality of life data in clinical trials, especially children with chronic diseases in need of cures.

RelayHealth Collaboration Challenge: Bioniks – Hacking together a Microsoft Kinect and the BodyMedia armband sensor, combined with proprietary algorithms, team Bioniks created a system for remote physical therapy.  By wearing BodyMedia’s armband around a joint (e.g. a knee), and moving the joint in the Kinect field, the team measured precise motion, and enabled quantitative endpoints and therapeutic progress to be tracked with far more sophistication than current practice.  This integrated technology solution was well characterized, and helped patients and caregivers collaborate to track the effectiveness of therapy and avoid expensive surgery.

Honorable Mention: Vocab – A veritable smorgasbord of health infotech, two undergrad Cal engineers set up a system by which a drop-down menu enabled a patient to fill out an EMR based on their own self-assessment.  As if that weren’t enough, they then enabled voice recognition leveraging an open source natural language processor to take the patient’s self-reported EMR and translate that into an ICD-9 code.  With Hacking Health judge Opinder Bawa, CTO of UCSF, offering them part-time jobs (I imagine he was only half joking), it was clear this team is one to watch.

Throw in mentoring hours from Rock Health and Cal’s CITRIS incubator, and the competition was full of ways to win by creating information solutions in healthcare!

So what happens at a UC Berkeley digital health hackathon anyway?

24 hours earlier, on Friday afternoon, three perspectives on opportunity recognition, product development and integrative design set the stage.   Abhas Gupta from Mohr Davidow Ventures gave us his overview of the quickly evolving digital health landscape.  Addressing the perspective of technology vendors, Aaron Siri spoke about BodyMedias growing ‘quantified self’ database, and ‘read’ and soon-to-be released ‘write’ APIs enabling application development to this rich data source.  Finally, industry design veteran David Fore reflected on his design work at Cooper Design and Lybba, a non-profit building an open-source network preventing the same old frustrating healthcare design flaws.

Then came the big reveal.  In addition to a $2,000 grand prize, $1,500 was up for grabs from Genentech and $500 from RelayHealth based on these criteria.

A little happy hour helped minds meet and teams form.  And then teams got cranking.

Selecting the winners was up to five talented folks, all undisputed leaders both in digital health and across the healthcare continuum:

  • Opinder Bawa – CTO of UCSF and CIO of UCSF Medical Center
  • Alide Chase – SVP for Kaiser Permanente and career hospital executive
  • Alison Greene – Genentech scientist with decades of experience researching patient-reported outcomes
  • Missy Krasner – Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Morgenthaler Ventures, previously a lead at Google Health and policy guru at the Office of the National Coordinator
  • Elise Singer, MD – Family physician, co-founder of Doximity, CMO at CalHIPSO, the California regional extension center for EMR adoption, and most recently founder of ShareTheVisit.

The judges had their work cut out for them, with ten scrappy teams cranking out creative technology solutions.  While the winners set a high bar, the rest of the teams were no slouches.  Disruptive, heart-warming and hilarious presentations rounded out the pack.

  • SeizureLog – Started as a way to help their friends’ infant who tragically developed epilepsy, Seizurelog’s mobile app enabled parents to record when a baby’s seizures had started and stopped, for later consultation with pediatric neurologists.
  • Health Hopper –  Saving physicians time, Health Hopper’s web-based portal enabled patients to enter in family and social history and prior care notes so their doctor wouldn’t have to, and enabled follow-up and reminders end after the visit.
  • In Motion Derby – A game encouraging young kids to engage in physical therapy.
  • Fantasy Fitness  – With Jake Hartnell of the Cal iSchool, in his spiky hair and skull-and-crossbones tie leading the team, this fitness challenge app promised to break away from the crowded pack of similar consumer wellness apps with a stickiness factor that only a gangster would love – gambling.  By placing longer odds on people who were less fit, this app went beyond StickKs self-offered financial incentives to a world in which couch potatoes were ringers and getting them fit meant beating the house.  It was an intriguing concept and an even more entertaining presentation.
  • MyObamaCare – When Francis Wong, physician with the U.K. National Health Service, came out to California and began learning about the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), his head began to spin.  Realizing he was not alone, he and a brilliant team of developers put together a decision support app predicting how the new law would personally affect them based on income level, demographic status and other indicators.  It was a rough first approximation, but just getting all the major policies affecting consumers from a 2000 page bill into one app in the course of the day was really impressive.
  • mHealthUp! – Last in line but certainly not least, this team addressed Genentech’s Special Innovation Challenge.  They demonstrated perhaps the most robust understanding of the challenges of clinical trials and built a functional mobile app to collect quality of life data.

As impressive as the demos were, the true value of these competitions went beyond what  actually gets built.  It’s easy to criticize hackathons as fly-by-night races that produce incomplete products and incentivize crazy ideas.  They are, and they do!  But they also enable people to meet and learn from each other.

Hackathons are about making connections.

It’s also easy to see why so many students and professionals were interested in connecting with each other around health information.  Medical technology is unlocking our genome and transforming our lives, and yet this same system wastes $700 billion every year and is slowly bankrupting our country.  There are a lot of reasons for that waste, but underlying many are three basic information problems:

1) Access, 2) insight, and 3) decision-making.

In a system where doctors and nurses often or can’t coordinate care, where patients lack access to their own medical records, the inability to access health information sidelines any hope for quality.

When we finally unlock health information from the siloes in which it’s been sequestered, the complexity of healthcare and biology make it difficult to derive insight from these data, and to truly understand the drivers of cost, quality and other key systemic performance indicators.

And even when we find patterns, visualize trends and establish causality, if those insights don’t enable better decisions – by doctors at the clinic, by patients leading healthier lives, and by organizations crafting more effective policy – even the best data won’t move the needle on all that waste.

These are big problems.  But they do have solutions.  There has never been a better time for combinations of solid data science, deep healthcare expertise, seamless design and sophisticated software development to enable solutions that improve millions of lives.  And because digital health innovation is an inherently multi-disciplinary endeavor, events like Hacking Health are critical to bridge islands of talent and enable us to begin talking.  Only together can we solve our significant, unmet needs in digital health and make the future more sustainable for everyone.

See you next year!

Stuart Kamin
Hacking Health Chair 2012
MBA/MPH 2012 Candidate, UC Berkeley

Note: This work was funded by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.  The contents of this publication are solely the responsibility of Grantee.