Hacking Health

Hacking Health, Oct 19-21, 2012 at MaRS in Toronto

A Hacking Health  event is happening October 19-21, 2012 in Toronto. The event focuses on bringing innovation to health care. It brings together clinicians with developers, designers, and entrepreneurs to look for real world solutions based on real clinical experience. It should be a very interesting event. The Montreal event has a 138 developers, 28 designers, 66 healthcare experts and 32 mentors. This signals a huge opportunity in the healthcare clinicians and practitioners for new tools and change. I wonder if the health care funding mechanisms/decision making will limit both the development and the adoption of any potential tools. It would be an interesting to discussion to have with others at the event.

Hacking Health Montreal Breakdown of Participants


The event in Montreal generated 19 projects, including:

  • HemoTrack – a mobile app that collects real time usage of Factor VIII, bleeding events and uploads that information to a web application accessed by physicians to monitor their patient’s health. This project included Dan McGrady
  • Kinect Burn Area App – Using the off-the-shelf Microsoft Kinect, the 3D depth sensor feature accurately and rapidly provides doctors measurements of total body surface area. The camera feature allows clinicians to visualize and accurately mark the area of the burn on screen and automatically calculate the % of body surface area burnt as well as fluid requirements of the patient.

I’m hoping to get out and participate (weekends are incredibly valuable, taking time away from kid activities and time means this really has to deliver value for my participation).

Apps for Heatlh

Apps for Health 2011I am not a huge fan of design contests as a motivator or educational tool. However they seem to work, there are business plan competitions like Moot Corp, SIFE Student Entrepreneur Competition, MIT $100K, among others. They do define external criteria, timelines and rewards help structure the process. That aside there is a new competition happening at Mohawk College in Hamilton focused on building “technological solutions to real-world challenges sponsored by health care organizations”.

Ever since I had a heart attack at DemoCampToronto6 I have had a renewed interest in personal health technologies. This shouldn’t be a surprise given that my undergraduate degree in Kinesiology in the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences (ask me about how a 17 year old makes decisions about educational programs, and I did seriously want to be an orthopedic surgeon until I realized I’d have to work with sick people). I’ve been interested in reimagining personal health technology:

I have friends at BodyMedia, Massive Health and other organizations that are doing some amazing things. I am fascinated with the change in delivery and practice engagement that Canadian companies like HelloHealth and Myca. So I am impressed to see  Apps for Health that presents a series of challenges:

Teams are then required to do the necessary research, design and iteration to build a presentation. You can think about this as the initial pitch session whether for funding, recruiting, customer development, etc. Teams create a 10 minute presentation that “demos” the solution.  The goal is to concisely present your idea and demonstrate:

  • Must demonstrate a thorough understanding of the health care problem
  • Must be clinically useful in the health care environment
  • Must be created by team for purpose of the competition
  • Must be technologically feasible
  • Degree of completion
  • Cohesive presentation

What’s the best way to present this? Technical details? Screen shots? Demos? Simulators? etc. Up to each team. You need to demonstrate impact and win hearts and minds. I think I’ll look at forking out the $50 to attend including the drive to Hamilton.


Re-imagining Health

I was watching Jay Parkinson at The Feast earlier this morning talking about Re-imagining Health. Jay formalized his social health care practice tools into Hello Health which allows patients and doctors to engage using new tools to improve health care. He also runs an innovation consultancy, The Future Well, focused on re-imagining health, healthy products and brands.

Jay Parkinson: Re-imagining Healthcare from alldaybuffet on Vimeo.

I went to school thinking I wanted to be a doctor. I wanted to make people’s lives better. I wanted to focus on sports medicine and orthopedics. Started down this path, registering in the Kinesiology program at the University of Waterloo and hoping to write the MCAT and get accepted to a medical program. At the end of the first year, after volunteering I realized that there were a lot of sick people and that health care wasn’t where I wanted to be. But I had the opportunity to work on a NeXT slab where I used the Web for the first time. (It was also the first time I was subjected to writing code using Objective-C and building experiences using Interface Builder). I decided that technology and design was where I wanted to focus. It’s only recently that my experiences have brought me back to thinking about health care and technology.

“Health, not healthcare!” – Ester Dyson

The consumerization of health and health care is an interesting. The Internet has started to democratize access to information. At about the 19:05 marker in Jay Parkinson’s presentation he talks about Zach Klein‘s experience of $4000 and 20 hours of lost work to get a diagnosis. And when typing in the symptoms into a search engine the first hit was the diagnosis provided by the second physician visited. Just to be clear, I don’t think that Jay Parkinson is arguing to remove medical providers or to only perform self diagnosis, he’s arguing that these new social tools can help connect, enable and inform people and their physicians. He’s built these social tools into HelloHealth, it’s a shared plan – where doctors and patients collaborate. Better informed patients hopefully mean more compliant patients.

And I’ve started to look for ways to better understand my own choices and behaviours to help me make sustainable choices. Why? In 2006 I had a heart attack at DemoCampToronto6 (aka BarCampER). And generally I’m an informed patient, I’m relatively compliant but I want better tools to understand my health. Gartner has called the consumerization of IT the most important trend of the decade 2005-2015. And we can see the impact of these changes on mobile phones and software distribution with the rise of the iPhone and the application store. People are adopting social technologies like Facebook and Patients Like Me. New sensors allow access to data to improve health.

This has me thinking more about the tools and connections used at Kristin’s office to enable engagement and connectivity with patients. I’m left thinking about the regulatory implications for health delivery and how to improve patients lives. And the risks to professional practice, but I think there is significant opportunity beyond electronic medical records and we need to start exploring them.

Related Articles

Platforms and health

All Images copyright Gizmodo Live Blog.

LifeScan’s app is for people with diabetes in order to “simply diabetes management.”


In their example, they’re putting themselves into the shoes of Maddie, a 15-year-old girl with diabetes. She tests herself six times a day and injects insulin multiple times a day. First she needs to prick her finger and get her glucose reading. Now the insulin meter can transmit her reading to her iPhone over Bluetooth or over the 30-pin dock connector.



She can then track her readings and mark them appropriately as before a meal or after a meal. Then she can track what kind of food she’s eating and how much of it, plugging it into the iPhone, which will tell her exactly how much insulin she needs after her meal.


Maddie can then re-calculate on the phone if she then needs less insulin because she’s going to exercise later.


With the iPhone app, she can then let her parents know that she’s OK by sending them a message directly through the app that has her glucose level and how she feels.

Apps like LifeScan and Charmr show that there is a real need to understand people and their devices. But that we’re about to see an explosion of personal medical devices targeted at behaviour change and routine monitoring of health. I love this space. What I love more is the emerging platforms like Google Health and HealthVault are trying to solve a BIG difficult problem of electronic health records. There is a huge opportunity to start software and “experiences” companies around this space.

Time to research Ontario government funding in this space. It looks like they have invested the $30M from the Innovation Demonstration Fund. Need to review companies and technologies in the Health Technology Exchange at htx.ca. And learn more about Investment Accelerator Fund. You can get access to software and support from BizSpark. What a great time to start a company! Great people, great ideas and great platforms are all abundant.

I’m inspired about personal healthcare startups.

Personal Healthcare & Data


Advertising Age has a summary of the best Health & Wellness products  at CES09. I have been fascinated by the industrial and interaction design work, done by my friends from Carnegie Mellon (Ivo Stivoric & Chris Kasabach), at BodyMedia. The product has developed significantly since the early days in 1999 where they were focused on the initial design and consumer adoption. It’s great to see the development of a multi-focused products built on similar technologies with offerings for: research; clinical applications; personal fitness; and club-based fitness. But it looks like there is an explosion of competition at CES.

polar-ft80 Since I suffered a heart attack in 2006, I’ve been thinking about buying a heart rate monitor (the meds now keep my heart rate artificially low). I’ve been thinking about purchasing a Polar FT80. It’s probably feature overkill, but the device and user experience is beautiful. I am curious about the integration to Polar Personal Trainer supports the software+services development and business models (it’s too bad that Polar hasn’t completely opened their API to support other applications like TrailRunner).

fitbit-inhand Fitbit, which launched at the TechCrunch50, was the category winner at CES. They are a wellness tracker. It tracks data about a persons activities including calories burned, sleep quality, and distance travelled (the calories burned and sleep quality must be interpreted numbers). It’s a great concept, that is similar to BodyMedia’s GoWear science of tracking your galvanic skin response, acceleration, skin temperature and heat flux.

It’s the data, stupid

There is a lot of focus on big when it comes to health care. HealthVault and Google Health are big solutions from multi-billion dollar companies. (Wow, I think the Polar RT80 connects to HealthVault, it’s not explicitly listed but I’m hoping it works). However, I’m wondering if there is a need to focus on individuals. The focus on individuals and individual responsibility can be seen with the appointment of Dr. Sanjay Gupta as the leading candidate for the Surgeon General. What better than a physician with broadcast experience to reach out to promote health and prevent disease for the American people.

With the development of devices like the GoWear, the FitBit and the Nike+Plus, it is possible for consumers to start collecting their own bio-signs. And begin monitoring, analyzing and altering their behaviour. Like the accelerometers have proven with innovative  iPhone interfaces (think UrbanSpoon read about accessing the GPS and accelerometer APIs),  the importance is in the sensors and the data. The Canary Foundation (thanks WIRED) uses simple tests and data to identify cancer at it’s earliest stages. I wonder if the tools around heart rate, metabolism, sleep combined with social networking can be used to change behaviour and alter the courses for obesity, diabetes, heart and blood vessel disease.

What other automated data collection could your personal healthcare devices collect? How could it be used to improve your quality of life? Or reduce your risk of disease?