Photo courtesy of Forge

Over the past weekend, the Atlanta VA Medical Center, the VA Center for Innovation and a company called Forge collaborated to host the 2015 Health Innovation Challenge on the weekend of April 10. During this event, students and professionals of various fields gathered together to pitch ideas aimed to promote the development of healthcare services. In this nonstop innovation sprint, the participants of this event were given 36 hours to complete the challenge of identifying an issue in health care and creating the beginnings of a solution.

The schedule was packed throughout the three days of the Health Innovation Challenge. On Friday, Dr. Carolyn Clancy, the Under Secretary for Health at the VA, who runs the largest integrated healthcare system in the US, kicked off the event as the keynote speaker.

Shortly after the kick-off, participants presented their pitches. This comprised of stating a problem that impacts healthcare, forming teams and then brainstorming solutions. After two rounds of pitches, official teams were finally formed.

Saturday was the innovation sprint. The day was full of various activities related to health care.

“We provided mentor support, software development kits from the VA’s new enterprise health management platform and 3D printers and other prototyping equipment,” Andrea Ippolito, the Co-Director of the event and Hacking Medicine 2015 VA Presidential Innovation Fellow, said.

Ippolito also co-lead MIT’s Hacking Medicine, similar to the Health Innovation Challenge.

The event also concluded on Saturday with a number of team presentations, final review judgements and an awards ceremony.

“The winning team of the event designed and 3D printed a reimagined retractor device for vaginal hysterectomy surgeries which has the potential to improve patient safety, outcomes and provides a better, easier experience for the surgical team,” Ippolito said. “The second place team designed a fast way to screen eyes in primary care settings to prevent blindness down the line.”

The hackathon is an enriching experience as it involves interaction with all fields used to better healthcare services, including medicine, engineering, designing, entrepreneurship and public relations. Often, the initial solutions created during these three days are implemented in large companies, with large global outreach.

“No preparation is needed; however, it is always helpful to collect problems that you have witnessed in healthcare or experienced,” Ippolito said. “I think the secret sauce for healthcare hackathons is that we start with a real problem impacting healthcare and medicine and go right
from there.”

To people who are interested in participating in the next health innovation challenge, Ippolito eases future participants’ concerns. She welcomes newcomers interested in health innovation.