The event I attended was framed as a learning opportunity about design thinking and a chance explore challenges faced by CHEO staff. Future hackathons are planned that will hopefully result in working prototypes designed to address these challenges.
For about five years, IBM has been striving to reinvent itself as a design-led business and has shared much of their ideology about design publicly. Employees of IBM’s Ottawa-based Design Lab expertly facilitated the Hacking Health teams using these methods.
Members of CHEO shared their challenges through Sparkboard (pictured below) – a tool for organizing interdisciplinary hackathons. In preparation for the event, participants were asked to select an area from the Sparkboard that interested them most. Challenges ranged from finding a way to improve communications between physicians and patients with brain tumors to determining alternative means of diagnosing obstructive sleep apnea in children besides a “sleep study.”
One thing I liked about event was that the diversity of the participants brought to light unexpected and scrappy approaches to what seemed to be deeply entrenched work practices.
My team was focused on crowdsourcing knowledge synthesis in medicine. The current approach to systematic review is a nuanced process - that as a generalist, designer and technologist - I’m not terribly familiar with. As we built our empathy maps and user journeys, I was struck by how similar this process was to what Valtech has been exploring recently in the legal industry. I can’t speak for the whole team, but my impression was that many of my team-mates walked away from the event with bright eyes and new perspectives on how the problem might be solved.
When outcomes outweigh the investment
One of the CHEO-based members of my Hacking Health team spoke to the challenges in finding people, time and money to undertake a systematic review. The effort can take months or even years. She described a painful process of scraping together enough money to employ students and residents to do the work. Many reviews are never started, never finished, or are out of date by the time they are made available to the medical and research communities. The tools available, according to the medically inclined members of my team, are archaic. The “as-is” process was thought of by my team as predominantly “human” work – searching and scanning abstracts… leaving the question open to how aspects of the process could be augmented or automated for productive gain.
A quote by William Gibson comes to mind: “the future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed.” As the evening wore on, the facilitator of my group quietly uttered to me that IBM already offers a solution that addresses this particular challenge. With my background with Microsoft and search, I had been thinking the same thing.
There’s a real potential to save money, time and people by modernizing the process – but connecting medical practitioners with knowledge of the advances in the technology sphere is one of the biggest hurdles. That’s one of the things that makes the Hacking Health approach so interesting.
For the Children’s Mercy CHAMP program, the investment paid off; a very smart move by technologically-minded Dr. Girish Shirali. According to a piece by Microsoft, “babies with this disease are the most expensive patients in the cardiac clinic” and are “in the hospital the longest.” But the data they now produce allows them to detect problems earlier and avoid readmission. Essentially, they avoid costly “emergency events.” A real decrease in the cost of care can be measured. In my view, this is a pattern very much worth repeating.