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Stanford University School of Medicine

health++ hackathon aimed for affordability, innovation

I first met Stanford undergraduates Jason Ku Wang and Shivaal Roy last spring after they returned from a hackathon in Boston. Already, they were starting to think about what a similar event could look like at Stanford. Over the last several months, I've had the pleasure of seeing that vision shape into health++, Stanford's first health-focused hackathon.

Co-directed by Wang and Roy, the event brought more than 250 participants from a broad range of backgrounds to campus last weekend to tackle health-care challenges with a focus on affordability, as Wang explains in the video below.

In his opening remarks, Roy emphasized that the word of the weekend was "interdisciplinary". After registering, participants were given a colored sticker to place on their name tags indicating their field of expertise - medicine, engineering, design or business - and were encouraged to form teams that reflected a color wheel of knowledge.

Wang and Roy, along with support from several faculty advisors and sponsors, solicited problem pitches well in advance of the hackathon.

"We wanted every project that came out [of the hackathon] to be based on a validated need that a physician, Biodesign fellow or engineer had already spent a lot of time thinking about," Wang said.

On day one of health++, after a crash course in design thinking and panel discussion with industry leaders like innovator Astro Teller, PhD, Stanford Health Care's Aditya Bhasin and Verily's Jessica Mega, MD, among others, participants heard rapid fire pitches on a number of challenges in health-care affordability. Then, they had about an hour to explore problems and to form teams.

Just over 24 hours later, they would present their solutions to a judging panel of physicians, investors and biotechnology experts from Stanford Medicine, Stanford Biodesign and the private sector. Teams completed 40 projects, tackling issues ranging from accessible medications for the blind and illiterate to improving access to lower cost drugs.

Teams were competing for $7,500 in prizes from event sponsors including the Center for Innovation in Global Health, Global Oncology, Stanford Health Care, Stanford Institute for Innovation in Developing Economies (SEED), Redox, Medable and IBM Watson.

"We were looking for something that was innovative, potentially impactful, well considered, something that really tried to address a major need," said Stanford physician-scientist Ami Bhatt, MD, PhD, who has been an advisor to health++ since its inception and served as a finalist judge. "It was exciting to see people from so many walks of life, ages and even states, participate in the hackathon. We were impressed by how much people can do with a little bit of time, a lot of support and encouragement."

Previously: Hacking for the win: Stanford students design new technology for nurses in needStanford doctors use biodesign training to spark health innovation in Brazil and Biodesign trip highlights an innovative approach to Japan's aging crisis


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