Health Hack: Time for Your Clinical Expertise

By Mark Mallozzi

Hospital-based physicians are no strangers to teamwork. Almost every department is made up of diverse individuals with varying levels of training and specialties in collaboration with one another to deliver quality care to their patients. But this diversity extends only as far as the hospital walls, and includes only the healthcare workers who make up these teams. How often is an experience designer part of this groups? An engineer? A business professional? While they may not know the first thing about treating a sick patient, these types of professionals have skills that are applicable to the delivery of healthcare.

Healthcare hackathons, based on the model proven successful through MIT’s Hacking Medicine, have shown the value of cooperation across these diverse fields. For hospital-based physicians, this type of collaboration is both enhanced by their expertise and invaluable to their continued practice.

In a single weekend, the Independence/Jefferson Health Hack brought together healthcare workers, designers, MBA students, engineers, computer scientists, and many others, to tackle their most frustrating (read: inspiring) experiences within the healthcare system. On Friday night, participants pitched their problems and ideas to the group, and by Saturday afternoon, teams had formed and were well on their way to developing solutions. After lunch on Sunday, the participants had a chance to present their projects to our panel of judges.

Regardless of the outcome, our teams left invigorated. Not only were they excited about their projects, but also about the process they used to get there. After going through the steps of identifying a problem, ideating, iterating, and presenting a solution as a team, participants left with an expanded knowledge of their abilities and the willingness required to tackle issues they encounter on a daily basis – all in less than 48 hours.

A healthcare hackathon is not about developing a breakthrough idea. Nor is it solely a haven for the tech-savvy to drink entirely too much coffee. The goal of these events, including the Independence/Jefferson Health Hack that I had the pleasure of co-planning, is to instill participants with confidence and eagerness to improve healthcare through collaboration. Instead of dismissing common frustrations as part of the job, we want physicians to pursue solutions by opening themselves up to help from people outside the medical field with skillsets other than their own. While this may seem like an idealistic approach, it is exactly what we achieved.

Hospital-based physicians play an essential role in health hackathons. By bringing their clinical expertise and knowledge of current hospital systems, they can direct projects to create clinically relevant, actionable solutions that benefit all involved. Perhaps more importantly, they must possess a willingness to adopt innovative solutions and involve their community. Physicians must be a voice for interventions that challenge the routine; they must identify, foster, and pursue novel ideas they are passionate about. By being the face of collaborative efforts like these, physicians and other providers can inspire their communities to think constructively about the healthcare system, in which we are all stakeholders. This commitment will drive meaningful innovation in medicine.

Here are three tips for success I would give hospitalists and physicians attending health hacks:

  1. 1. Mentor: Participating is a lot of fun, but for those who are hesitant about attending their first hackathon, mentoring is a great way to get involved. It is also a nice alternative for physicians who are unable to attend the full event. Mentors help teams find a niche for their project and can also assess practicality and potential for growth. You might even want to offer to mentor teams after the event!
  2. 2. Be Flexible: It is important for participants to remain open to other projects instead of focusing solely on what they imagined going into the weekend. Often times teams will form a combination of problems or ideas from several participants. Even after teams have started working on their projects it is important to be open to changing things along the way, sometimes drastically.
  3. 3. Get Involved Early: Physicians’ involvement does not need to start when the event does. Reaching out to the organizers and offering to help recruit participants, mentors and sponsors is a big way to get involved. Physicians have the knowledge of what parties from the medical field should be represented in order have all the necessary experts present. The event is about bringing together all kinds of people with different backgrounds and expertise. The earlier this happens, the more relevant and rewarding the event will be for everyone!

Mark Mallozzi is a second year medical student attending Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, PA. He is a member of the College within the College in Design. This fall, he was a student co-director of the 2015 Independence/Jefferson Health Hack hosted on Jefferson's campus. Mark has his B.S. in Exercise Science from George Washington University. You can follow Mark on Twitter @markmallozzi.

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