Tips for Hospitalists Attending Health Hackathons

by Edward Ma, MD, SFHM

Hospitalists play an important role in creating the healthcare systems of the future.

That’s the lesson I took away from the Independence/Jefferson Health Hack last month at Jefferson Innovation in Philadelphia. Before I became a mentor at the Health Hack, I had no idea what a health hack or hackathon was. Now, I see great potential for hospitalists and their patients nationwide.

Health hacks or hackathons are a relatively new phenomenon: events that give grassroots technology innovators the tools and guidance to tackle a specific challenge in healthcare (or other field). The Independence/Jefferson Health Hack combined technical expertise, support from major sponsors (like Comcast, Microsoft and IBM) and mentorship from healthcare providers like me.

I have never participated in anything like this before. It’s interesting to see companies and physicians and innovators come together and support this at the grassroots level. Often, these innovations are coming from people who have really good ideas, but don’t have the outlet or guidance to bring the ideas to the next level – here, they received guidance from others who were more seasoned.

At this Health Hack, I gave a group of innovators some perspective about how medications are delivered to patients in the hospital for an idea they had about delivering prescription medications via drone. I helped them understand how things work in the hospital on a day-to-day basis, taking their ideas from theory to reality-based solutions.

Health hacks and health hackathons are popping up in cities and medical schools across the country (Google “health hack” and your city to find one in your area).

Once you find one and attend, here’s how to make the most of your experience:

  1. 1. Be proactive. Don’t just wait for people to come to you. Look for people who need help. If you go to a team working on something you’re interested in, you’ll probably have something to offer. That’s how I ended up providing valuable guidance about using drones in the hospital.
  1. 2. Don’t dismiss an emerging idea. You may actually think an idea is silly, but that idea may lead to others.
  1. 3. Build your network. Met with several physician entrepreneurs, including some whose startups have been bought out for millions of dollars. Interesting to interact with these people. They inspired me to think a little outside of medicine.

Hospitalists everywhere are caring for patients and improving their hospitals, but this is a great way to improve the quality of healthcare innovation in your community – and maybe even help create an innovative breakthrough that changes care nationwide!

Edward Ma, MD, SFHM obtained his undergraduate degree in biochemistry with honors at The University of Pennsylvania and his medical degree from UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical School. He completed his internal medicine training in 2003 at Thomas Jefferson University and is board certified in internal medicine. He has worked as a hospitalist in the Philadelphia region for the last 12 years and has led various initiatives at his hospitals to improve quality and processes to provide better outcomes for hospitalized patients. He served as the President of the Philadelphia/Tri-state chapter of the Society of Hospital Medicine from 2011-2015 and is now currently one of their chapter board members. He has also served as an advisor to numerous hospitalist leaders, hospitalist practices and hospital administrations in the Philadelphia region.

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