The Department of Medical Informatics & Clinical Epidemiology (DMICE) was a co-sponsor of the OHSU Invent-a-thon, a virtual health care hackathon. Developed in partnership with MIT Hacking Medicine and supported by over 50 academic and industry partners, the OHSU Invent-a-thon convened innovators from industry and health care, to identify the biggest problems in delivering health care and think outside traditionally siloed research facilities and industries to develop innovative solutions.
At the end of October, I joined hundreds of others from around the world at the OHSU/MIT Invent-a-thon. We were all united by a desire to innovate solutions to modern day healthcare problems. This particular event was unique in that it was entirely virtual – the original Inventathon was scheduled for April in-person. The organizers did a fantastic job putting the entire conference online.
The entire conference took place from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon. I had not previously experienced a Hackathon, and I didn’t expect the intense situation I was about to find myself in. After the opening talks, we joined one of four tracks. I had applied to be in the chronic disease track because of my background in public health, and because it drives so many of the care challenges faced by healthcare organizations in today’s world. The problem pitches started, where individuals had only a minute or two to explain a healthcare issue that required creative solutions.
I decided to pitch the problem of seniors and telehealth access. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced healthcare providers to find new ways of reaching patients, and telehealth was a natural solution. However, many patients have trouble accessing it. Seniors especially can experience barriers that range from a lack of computer or smartphone ownership, tech literacy, a lack of social support, and impaired vision or hearing.
After the problem pitches, I was approached virtually by a diverse group of folks interested in working on the topic. Our team ended up as an incredible group of physicians, healthcare quality experts, health marketers, and entrepreneurs. Over the next 12 hours (literally, as we worked late into the night) honing our problem and crafting a potential solution. We decided to focus our efforts on asynchronous communication between providers and patients. Typically, a patient can log in to a patient portal and send electronic messages to their established providers, who can write back. This type of communication is meant for low acuity discussions of symptoms and management that do not necessitate a full appointment. The hope is that regular communication with a provider can prevent patients from delaying their care and/or ending up in an emergency room.
Our team came up with the idea of a voice assistant skill for a platform such as Alexa, Google, or Siri. It essentially would act as a voice interface for the patient portal, such as Epic’s MyChart. A patient at home could ask Alexa to send a message to their doctor, which would then be transcribed and sent to the provider’s inbox. The software would then be able to read the provider’s response back to the patient. Further on, the product could be expanded to include other functions of the patient portal, such as making appointments and checking lab results.
Over Saturday night and Sunday morning, we met with multiple mentors to help us with our pitch. These were industry and academic experts that were chosen to connect with us based on our topic. We received some excellent advice and cautions about some of the barriers we would expect in development. At the same time, we grinded away on research, script writing, and PowerPoint designing over multiple-hour video conferences. I can’t stress enough about how impressed I was with our team’s dedication.
Sunday afternoon arrived. We had 3 minutes to present. One second longer, and we would be cut off coldly by the moderator. Nervousness was apparent but our confidence was boosted by one simple fact – we were incredibly well prepared. We had practiced our scripts and pre-written answers to several expected questions from the judges. Our slide deck was fantastic and our team did a great job in their voiceovers. We even had an Oscar-worthy performance by our British teammate who played the part of the voice assistant.
ASK: Asynchronous Senior Kare
A voice interface for the patient portal that empowers older adults to take charge of their own healthcare
Our pitch ended up winning second place in the chronic disease track. All of us were thrilled that our hard work had paid off. We definitely want to take this idea further and are continuing to meet on a regular basis. I came away from the weekend exhausted but thrilled to have taken part. I’m already looking forward to the next hackathon.
Another DMICE participant was Benjamin Collins, MD, also a Clinical Informatics Fellow. Dr. Collins reported the following:
The OHSU Invent-a-thon was a virtual blast! It provided a great learning experience on top of being an engaging event. The weekend was packed with great ideas and efficient productivity by people coming together online from many locations and all walks of life. And these weren’t simply aimless ideas. They addressed real problems of importance with actual, potential solutions.
Participants formed groups and worked diligently on problems of surgical care, rural health, chronic disease management, and early disease detection. I participated in the chronic disease tack and joined a group aiming to improve health literacy as an avenue to better chronic disease care. Our group of six included a neurology, anesthesiologist, pharmacist, engineer, and a biochemist, in addition to myself, a clinical informatics fellow. We came together to tackle the problem of insufficient health literacy with enthusiasm. We were guided by excellent mentors with a breadth of different experiences. During the weekend, I pushed the limits of my knowledge as an informatics fellow, learning and growing from the experience. By the end I came away with more concrete knowledge about the business of informatics and health policy that will certainly aid me in my future career.