From 6 to 14 January, the first ever Health Hackathon 2018 Kuala Lumpur (HHKL) was held at Sunway iLabs, Bandar Sunway, Subang Jaya. With the purpose of innovating healthcare, the week-long hackathon welcomed approximately 80 participants – also known as ‘hackers’ – of diverse professional backgrounds, including healthcare professionals (HCPs), information technology (IT) developers, designers, and programmers. As the official media partner, MIMS brings you the highlights of the inaugural event.
The first in Malaysia – and Asia – HHKL was organised under the direction of Hacking Health (HH), a global not-for-profit movement to bridge digital technology and healthcare, and Strateq, a software company that develops products for customers of various industries. The event was supported by Amazon Web Services (AWS) and sponsored by International Medical University (IMU) Malaysia, IMU Healthcare Clinics and Sunway Innovation Labs (iLabs) – which accommodated the event and granted a spot in the Sunway iLab’s Accelerator programme for the first-place winner.
Featuring a packed programme, mentors of various disciplines were engaged to guide and provide advice to participants during that week. Industrial professionals were also invited on 13 and 14 January to preside over the presentations.
HHKL – not your usual hackathon
The concept of Hacking Health was first introduced to Dr Benjamin Cheah, the lead of HHKL, when he was approached by a tech company in Silicon Valley. He was then connected with Hacking Health, and began organising HHKL in 2015, before the first hackathon was held this year.
“Malaysians or Asians are not really used to working in this environment, where we share ideas,” Dr Cheah noted. As such, he hopes that the week-long HHKL – the first-ever, as hackathons are only held over two days – will build a community where ideas can be shared and the barriers of conservatism can be broken. The existence of HHKL is also to act as an “arbitrator”, to stay as neutral as possible, between the IT and healthcare industry.
One of the main purposes of the hackathon was to bring in more understanding between the collaboration of two different fields. “For healthcare to understand what IT can do, and for IT to understand what healthcare is all about,” explained Dr Cheah. “That’s where you can actually form really impactful solutions.”
“Doing it alone can be challenging, but surrounding yourselves with collaborators and motivated experts will help you change the world!” added Luc Sirois, the co-founder of Hacking Health, which held its first hackathon in 2012 at Montreal, Canada.
In line with the movement to bring innovation into healthcare, the theme “Re-Imagining Healthcare” was set to signify that “healthcare is changing, and will change,” expressed Dr Cheah. The theme was also chosen in conjunction with the broad aspect of the hackathon, where it was not limited to only one specific area – such as their initial idea on only focusing on mental health or elderly care.
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‘Words of gold’ for first-time hackers
Before diving into week-long brainstorming sessions, both new and experienced hackers were inspired and given a few words of advice by mentors.
Mr Heislyc Loh, a passionate hacker of more than 20 hackathons, graced the event to share some tips on hacking. He summarises the ultimate hacking experience in ten words – “set visions”, “build teams”, “research problems”, “manage resources” and “tell stories”.
"I’m a person who believes in starting with an end in mind,” emphasised Mr Loh, elaborating on the importance of visualising the outcome at the end of the hackathon. “At the very least, you would want to be able to tell yourself that ‘this was great and I’m glad I made the decision to come’,” he added.
With collaboration as one of the main aims of the hackathon, building a team is of utmost importance. “Think hackathon as a sport. When you’re in sports, it’s a team game. You can’t do it yourself, and you need each other, different skill sets and more holistic-dynamic together,” Mr Loh explained.
Advising on an ideal team composition, Mr Loh said that “a hustler”, “a visionary”, “a designer” and “a hacker” are needed.
He describes that “hustlers and visionaries are usually the leaders of a team – a hustler is someone that is very resourceful, while a visionary set the team’s vision and helps to keep the team in focus.”
On the other hand, hackers and designers contribute by designing and producing prototypes – providing the visuals to the idea.
To ace the compulsory five-minute idea pitch in a hackathon, Mr Loh stated that a good prototype that complements a good “story” will be beneficial as it will leave an impact on the audience.
“I believe in really telling a compelling story, as a story is something that people walk away with,” he concluded.
Dr Prathaban Raju, Senior Vice President of Strateq Health also gave valuable advice on translating healthcare-related ideas to become a commercially viable product.
As the hackathon focused on innovative healthcare, he advised hackers to share, ‘hack’, and collaborate with people to execute an idea worth building. "Being selfish and holding back the idea" would not help to grow it into a proper product instead.
Providing an analogy, Dr Prathaban said, “You have an idea, and you write it on a paper. If you don't do anything about it, take the paper and throw it into the dustbin because that's the only value of the idea - the paper on which it was written on.”
Judgement day: The start of something newAs the week went by, Sunway iLabs witnessed daily brain-storming sessions by the participants, while mentors dropped by to help whenever they could. On the final day, a total of 17 teams were formed, all ready to present their interesting, in-depth and eye-opening ideas.
Many ideas were well-received by the judges and after an extensive and lengthy debate, they narrowed down the list to three winners. On a last-minute decision, three more consolation prizes were created to encourage and reward the compelling ideas.
Receiving first place for their innovative project was ‘Project Guardian’, as the idea was set to target one of the world’s biggest worry – the antibiotic apocalypse – with applied machine learning as a means of solution to the problem.
“Project Guardian is about using artificial intelligence to predict the amount of resistant organism cases in the hospital, to develop a concise plan to tackle the problem of resistant organism infection diseases within the hospital,” elaborates Mr Goh Chan Sing, a pharmacist at Hospital Seberang Jaya and project lead of Project Guardian.
On how they felt after winning, Mr Goh said that they still have “lots of work to do”, but they are now “more confident to know that this is acceptable and is the correct way.”
Second place was ‘Mindway’, a proposed machine-learning app that studies language on social media to identify individuals at risk of depression. Finally, coming in third, ‘Project Mirador’ expanded on the current trend of using cryptocurrency to exchange good habits into sellable digital tokens that can be used to pay medical bills.
Explaining their decision, the judges said that the three teams fulfilled the criteria of reflecting the hackathon’s theme of combining IT into healthcare, taking into account the five pillars of innovation in healthcare, reflected the current global health issues and also provided possible solutions.
One of the judges, Mr Leon Jackson, Director of Digital Enterprise Solutions from Strateq Group, complimented the hackers on being able to learn to work together by collaborating with people who are “very different and from different disciplines”.
He also noted on the different drivers that motivated the hackers throughout the event, and hoped the motivation will stay on as they pursue their goals and maybe even to join the next hackathon.
Providing solutions to the multifactorial problem of healthcare
Mr Cedric Chua, a pharmacist at Apex Pharmacy Marketing and Marketing Lead of HHKL, agreed with Mr Jackson that “healthcare is not as easy as a single stream subject. It’s multifactorial and very complicated.”
He added that the execution of healthcare involved a lot of plans and many parties – including the public and private sectors, consumers or patients, medical practitioners and allied health professional pharmacists.
“I always like to think that our role, Hacking Health, is to build [the] community, educate the public and the practitioners,” he shared. “We have to affect the ecosystem and not just every single party on a stand-alone basis.”
With this hackathon’s success, the future of HHKL is bright and promising. The team hopes to make future hackathons to be more focused, and as Dr Cheah suggested, incorporating an “international flavour” that includes international expertise – with a possibility of hosting a regional event to bridge Asia’s future chapters together.
“The Hacking Health chapter in Malaysia, as well as its leadership team, are clearly a source of inspiration for the global movement as a whole, and for other chapters in Asia and the rest of the world,” wrote Mr Sirois in conjunction to the HHKL.
“I think the key next steps for Hacking Health at the global level is to help local leaders such as Dr Cheah and his team and HH colleagues in Kuala Lumpur, achieve greater impact in term of transformation of local healthcare systems,” he added. “Helping them keep their momentum and supporting the success of the best ones is now an important next step.” MIMS
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