Hacking Pediatrics: Bringing the Transformative Power of Hackathons to Pediatrics

| Lauren Tobin

Lauren Tobin is the Program Manager for the Hacking Pediatrics Team at Boston Children’s Hospital.


Oftentimes the best environment to foster innovation is one in which unfamiliar eyes look at old problems. Sometimes the individual or group closest to or most affected by the problem is too close to see a solution. To echo an old adage, they are too close to the forest to see the trees. However, bringing in an outsider, someone unrelated to the problem, can allow for a fresh perspective that could lead to a solution. As a newcomer to the world of hackathons, I see this fresh perspective as the reason why hackathons are so successful.

1402344255Healthcare hackathons are still a relatively novel concept, although they have become increasingly popular in recent years. Until I joined the Hacking Pediatrics team at the beginning of the summer, I had never heard of a hackathon. I have since learned that bringing clinicians together with bright enthusiastic programmers, developers, engineers, designers and entrepreneurs to “hack” ideas for the next big thing in healthcare is a valuable investment for healthcare organizations.

Several successful startups have their roots in hackathons, including PillPack, a full-service, online pharmacy that helps patients manage their medications, and Twiage, a mobile app that delivers real-time data to EDs from first-responders. Additionally, hackathons open participants’ eyes to new ways of thinking and shows them that with the right mix of people a viable solution to a problem can be created in the course of the weekend. Even for those teams that eventually form a startup, hackathons help give them the tools to be more creative and unconventional in their approaches to solving other problems.

Recognizing the need to implement the hackathon model into healthcare early on, a group of Boston-area students, entrepreneurs and healthcare professionals founded MIT Hacking Medicine. The group seeks to cultivate a community of individuals that want to teach and learn and launch the next generational healthcare solutions to solve healthcare’s biggest challenges at home and abroad. Its mission is to empower individuals to solve some of the greatest challenges facing healthcare today, and to turn around and teach others that they can do the same in their own communities. The group does much more than simply put on hackathons. In the last several months, I have been amazed by what their passion and expertise has accomplished. It is truly awe-inspiring.

In October 2013, a core group of clinicians and innovators from Boston Children’s Hospital joined forces with MIT Hacking Medicine to bring the transformative power of a hackathon to pediatrics for the first time with the Hacking Pediatrics hackathon. In under 36 hours, 16 teams brought to life incredible ideas that will help improve the lives of children and their families. The fan favorite team developed an elegant software solution that addresses the difficult problem of planning meals for children with food allergies. They are expecting to launch their company, Kindrd Food, in the coming months.

Photo via @HackPediatrics: Big line of folks #pitching at last year's #HackPeds #hackathon.
Photo via @HackPediatrics: Big line of folks #pitching at last year’s #HackPeds #hackathon.

Given the unequivocal success of their first hackathon, Hacking Pediatrics from BCH is once again teaming up with Hacking Medicine to host their second annual hackathon. I am honored and excited to be a part of this year’s event and witness firsthand the magic that can happen when patients crippled by unsolved problems, parents facing seemingly insurmountable hurdles, and clinicians frustrated by roadblocks pitch their pain points to a room of individuals with the skills, interest and potential necessary to solve them. We have been working hard to make this year’s hack bigger and better than the first year. I feel very lucky to have been an integral part of that journey.

This year’s hackathon will take place October 17-19 at Microsoft New England in Cambridge. For more information, visit www.hackingpediatrics.com or contact [email protected].

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