Hack events: value creating or a fancy gathering for innovators? (by Margot Vanfleteren)

Every day again there`s a hack event. But do they deliver value? Where hack events, in the beginning of their existence, used to be something for engineers and designers it is now growing into a societal event where various stakeholders in one area of expertise gather. This is also the case for healthcare. Nevertheless, when attending hack events, I seem to see the same solutions for old problems. One question at the center of this blog: “How do hack events influence innovation in care?”


The city for medical innovation remains Boston. Also when looking up information on hacking events in healthcare. I came across an article describing a MIT Hacking Medicine event. For me as an entrepreneur and patient expert these events are common knowledge, what I didn`t know is the switch that`s happening in terms of innovative solutions. Whereas it used to be on coming with the fanciest apps and devices, that also have value, it`s now more about connecting and supporting the target group.


A nice example mentioned in the article is Hey,Charlie. The team was connected, via one team member, with an opiate addicted patient and thus had a distinct point of view on treatment and recovery options for mental illnesses. Pain point according to the team was the paternalistic support systems. Their app Hey, Charlie is based upon patient experiences and hence differs. When I attended VOKA Healt`s event on digital health earlier this week it again became clear too that letting the patient participate is crucial for success. Inge Vandelannoote told that as an IBD patient she`s astonished by the creation of apps identifying nearby restrooms. All together they are great but an IBD patient does not have enough time to take an app and search the map for a restroom. The growing inclusion of patients, and patient representatives, at hacking events will up to my opinion benefit all: users, investors and creators. Hack events, as societal events, are the perfect location to include patients and learn from them.


Moreover, Hack events are not held in a university dormitory hall. MIT, Microsoft, Health 2.0 know how to gather people and this leads to a broad audience and many participants. That`s most probably one of the biggest strengths of such events. Everett Rogers discussed in his influential book Diffusion of Innovation how the innovations are not spread automatically. It`s a sum of tactics leading to a successful spread. One is his Gauss curve describing the various groups of people with distinct characteristics and how they adopt innovations. It may help explain the principle leading to implementation of hackathon-based healthcare solutions. The most difficult step in diffusion of innovative tools is from early majority to majority. Due to the broad media coverage of hackathons and solid networks you build in 48 hours` time the concept and/or minimal viable product is easier sold to the majority outside of the hackathon.


Feedback is important when you wish to improve; at hackathons there are various key opinion leaders, in both management and healthcare related subjects. The opportunity to run the cycle from problem to validated solution in 48 hours with constant feedback at every turning point delivers great value as little time is lost working on less optimal deliverables. Team activities are thus more efficient.


So how do hack events influence innovation in care? Making up all success ingredients is a true mission impossible. Things that I found and which are rather easy to take into account when developing an innovation at hackathons (and in innovation process) are following: connect with your target group and beg for feedback, to that point that it gets innerving to the person you`re asking.



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