I have been part of MIT Hacking Medicine since 2014. As a team member of the group, I have coordinated and led a multitude of hackathons and design workshops both in the Boston area, and around the globe. My personal area of interest in this group has been on running events focused on cost-effective healthcare innovation and global health; many of these initiatives have been in close collaboration with MGH Center for Global Health’s Consortium for Affordable Medical Technologies (CAMTech).
Mission of our group
To infect, energize and teach healthcare entrepreneurship and digital strategies to scale medicine to attack and solve health problems globally.
What is a health hackathon?
MIT Hacking Medicine has organized to date more than 50 health hackathons across 9 countries and 5 continents. “Hackathon” is a portmanteau of the words “hack” and “marathon.” A “hack” is a solution to an existing problem that is developed by intense innovative teamwork in a short amount of time, also known as “hacking.” A hackathon is therefore a race to solve challenges against time – our health hackathons usually take place over a single weekend. Hackathons are commonly associated with programming and computer science but, in health hackathons, not all participants are coders. They come from diverse backgrounds, address pain points in healthcare delivery, and assess business viability as an integral component of their hacks.
A focus in global health
We have found that the hackathon model can be adapted to a low- and middle-income country (LMIC) setting in a straightforward manner, and presents a unique opportunity to involve local stakeholders to work toward the betterment of their community. More so than in the resource-rich parts of the world, in LMICs physicians may never brush shoulders with software engineers, and business people may never cross paths with technology designers, as these groups are often siloed from one another. A local health hackathon puts these unlikely players together at the same drawing board, encouraging different perspectives, experiences, and expertise to play off each other and so championing locally driven, sustainable healthcare improvements in a groundbreaking way for the LMIC setting.
For more about my experience with a CAMTech Hackathon in Uganda, check out a blog post that I wrote.
- Aikaterini Mantzavinou*, Bryan J. Ranger*, Smitha Gudapakkam, Katharine G. Broach Hutchins, Elizabeth Bailey, Kristian R. Olson. “Health hackathons drive affordable medical technology innovation through community engagement“. UNESCO Chair in Technologies for Development: From Innovation to Social Impact (2016).