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Interview with the Med.Hack(+) team

Building Solutions Together For Real-World Healthcare Problems

The Med.Hack(+) hackathon is back in person this year and ready to bring people together from every field to help solve real-world healthcare issues using technology.

Since its inception, the Med.Hack(+) hackathons have created more than 35 projects, including PatientPrep, which allows patients to enter their medical history and concerns directly into their electronic health record, Repatriation app, which helps patients return to their home and Athlete Era, which helps improve physical literacy. These success stories embody the power of the hackathon and its ability to connect people, ideas and expertise and create meaningful change.

Innovation Place is proud to sponsor the Med.Hack(+) hackathon from September 23 to September 25 this year and we spoke with Med.Hack(+) Founder Dr. Adam McInnes and Med.Hack(+) Chair Amanda Zimmerling to find out more about the importance of the hackathon, what they’re excited about this year and why you should get involved as a participant, sponsor or mentor!

What was the initial inspiration for creating the Med.Hack(+) hackathon?

Dr. Adam McInnes: The inspiration was in 2014 when I was in medical school. I heard about hackathons, was interested in technology advances and engineering applications in the practice of medicine and wanted people to be inspired to help create the future of medicine and solve problems that people were facing here.

I wanted to bring hackathons to Saskatoon and help inspire people about the potential of technology to solve problems in healthcare and bring people together from across disciplines. I reached out to friends in different student groups to help plan the first healthcare hackathon.

In 2016, I again worked with students from various student groups to establish Med.Hack(+) as a non-profit corporation. We wanted to ensure that we had continuity of the hackathons and wanted to build it as an experiential learning opportunity for students and mentorship from the business community.

What impact has the Med.Hack(+) hackathon had on creating healthcare solutions?

Dr. Adam McInnes: This varies on the project and what participants want to get out of their efforts. We have seen projects go on to be built and licensed to healthcare technology companies, get integrated into the healthcare system, moved into research opportunities and others that people wanted to have fun with for a weekend.

The most successful projects have been brought by people who understand the problem and that are surrounded by people who are passionate about solving real-world problems.

What impact have you seen the hackathon have on participants?

Dr. Adam McInnes: One of my favourite stories about the hackathon was from my friend, Dr. Karissa Brabant. She was a year behind me in medical school and was part of the planning team that year. She pitched a project and led a team to solve a problem for patients in what is one of the most memorable hackathon projects we have ever had.

At the end of the hackathon, she came up to me and said “What I learned from doing this is that I can do anything I put my mind to.” To me, that’s what Med.Hack(+) is about and I have seen her go on to do amazing things in her career as a physician.

Amanda Zimmerling: I think this event is an eye opener for many of our participants no matter what background they come from. It is amazing to watch people realize that when a group of people who understand current problems get together with a group of people trained to build solutions, solutions to really complex problems are not that hard to come by with a little ingenuity.

I’ve also seen people become much more interested in entrepreneurship opportunities from this experience as they see what can come out of a focused team working together.

How has the Med.Hack(+) hackathon evolved since the beginning?

Dr. Adam McInnes: One of the biggest evolutions has been going from a franchise of another company to a stand-alone company based in Saskatchewan doing our own thing. This gave us more flexibility in our events and how we operate.

We have hosted mini, half-day hackathons at conferences and primer events to engage the local community leading up to the hackathon, and we have built partnerships with local businesses and the campus community. It also solidified this as an experiential leadership learning opportunity for students with support from the larger Saskatchewan healthcare, business and education community.

Every year, we have an evolution in the planning team with new members joining and senior members moving on in their careers and academic journeys. This creates a different flavour every year for the hackathon, which leads to new innovations in how we operate and what the hackathons and primer events look like.

During the pandemic, we had to evolve to keep the hackathon going. We were supported by the Saskatchewan Health Authority to switch to hosting virtual hackathons. We had always allowed for virtual participation, but this was the first time that we had everyone participating virtually.

What are you excited for with this year’s hackathon?

Dr. Adam McInnes: Every year, I am excited to see what ideas people have for problems that need to be solved and how they can be solved. You never know what ideas are brewing in people’s minds, and when you bring together teams of people with different skill sets, innovation happens.

Amanda Zimmerling: This year, I am most excited to start to grow our attendance back towards pre-pandemic levels. Hacking virtually is definitely not the same as being in-person at Innovation Place where you can get hands-on experience building prototypes to physical solutions. We already have a good number of registrants being two months out from the event!

Why do you think the innovation community should get involved with this event?

Dr. Adam McInnes: Innovation is what drives the future of our world and how we interact with one another. In healthcare, innovation is driving rapid changes that are improving the care provided to patients, reducing costs and making life easier for healthcare professionals. Med.Hack(+) is an opportunity for people to play a part in driving that innovation that makes life better for all of us.

Med.Hack(+) is an especially great opportunity for students. Employers like to see experiential learning on resumes, and hackathons like Med.Hack(+) are great opportunities to build your resume and build your network.

What does this mentorship/sponsorship support mean for the hackathon and Med.Hack(+)?

Dr. Adam McInnes: Mentorship is incredibly valuable to our hackathon participants. During the hackathon, teams form around ideas, but they don’t always have all of the skills that they need or the insight that is needed to build effective solutions. Mentors provide that role and help all of the teams to be more successful.

Sponsorship is the only way that Med.Hack(+) can happen. We don’t make money off of the ideas that come from the hackathon. That means that we are reliant on the community to support our work through sponsoring our hackathon. This allows us to feed everyone for the weekend, to bring in guest speakers and advertise what we do.

Our planning team members are all volunteers. Every year, we seek out interested university, college, and high school students to join our planning team to help make our event a success. Having mentors as part of our board of directors is very valuable to our participants in deciding on their futures.

Who are some mentors who have participated in the past and had a big impact? Did they share anything that resonated?

Dr. Adam McInnes: We have had guest speakers every year, and they always bring great ideas and thought-provoking topics for our hackathon participants. Some have also presented ideas to our participants for hackathon projects that have continued on after the hackathon to varying levels of success.

One year, Dr. Sean Maw was our keynote speaker. He presented on the idea of the Medici Effect. During the Medici Dynasty, the Medici family brought together artists, scientists, engineers, and people of various disciplines, and it was at this intersection of ideas and disciplines, where the best and brightest came to work and innovation was nurtured, that allowed the Renaissance to begin.

Med.Hack(+) is not so bold as to birth the next Renaissance, but it is this same idea of nurturing interdisciplinary collaboration that we rely on to drive innovation.

This sounds like it's going to be an incredible event! Anything else to add?

Dr. Adam McInnes: Med.Hack(+) is a fun, fast-paced, friendly competition. We have seen teams competing with one another also sharing resources to help others to be more successful. We have seen teams collaborate by taking on smaller projects that are part of a larger project. It’s an amazing event!

Med.Hack(+) is broad in scope, both in our focus and our participants. We focus on One Health, which is the idea that the health of humans, the health of animals, and the health of the environment are interconnected, and we see the need to create solutions in all of these areas.

Similarly, we need technology builders and healthcare professionals with the technical expertise and experience, but we also need artists, makers, entrepreneurs, and anyone else who thinks that they can contribute ideas to build solutions—you don’t need to know anything about healthcare or technology to participate.

If you'd like to join the Med.Hack(+) hackathon, register here.

The Med.Hack(+) hackathon is always looking for new sponsors and mentors from the tech community! If you'd like to become a sponsor or mentor, contact Med.Hack(+).

- August 5, 2022