Virtual hackathon for very real progress in Healthcare

July 2020 – University Hospital Schleswig-Holstein’s fourth Healthcare Hackathon took place virtually for the first time due to corona. The format was a complete success: with record numbers of participants and spectators, but also impressive competition entries. It became clear that the future of the healthcare lies above all in accelerated digitalization.

For the youngest patients and their parents, a hospital stay usually means worrying about: What can I expect? What’s going to happen to me? Those worries require a great deal of empathy, understanding and even more time for the children’s concerns on the part of doctors and nursing staff. Next to the necessary human attention, modern technology can can be supportive in taking away inhibitions and fears that children. Younger children in particular, members of the smartphone and tablet generation, could be better prepared for everyday life in a hospital or an unavoidable operation using playful approaches on smart devices – with child-oriented mobile storytelling, icons suitable for the screen, short explanatory films and games.

This is the idea behind FirstAid KID, an app for children in hospitals. The jury at the recent fourth Healthcare Hackathon at University Hospital Schleswig-Holstein (UKSH) was enthusiastic about the development team’s idea – and chose FirstAid KID as the winner of the one-day Hackathon at the beginning of June along with six other entries. The purely virtual Hackathon was very well received by the participants – this is also reflected in the quality of the entries. Quite the contrary. “It was a challenge to organize a completely virtual competition for the first time. We fully succeeded in doing so,” says Professor Jens Scholz, Chairman of the UKSH Board and host of the Hackathon. After the positive experience with the digital conference and lively audience feedback – on average, at least 250 to 300 interested parties followed the live stream – Scholz intends to have at least a significant part of future Hackathons take place virtually in the post-corona period.

The most recent Hackathon made one thing clear: Corona is setting the pace and acting as a catalyst for change, and not only when it comes to conferencing technology. The digitalization of healthcare is also gaining momentum due to the virus and its consequences. What seemed unthinkable in Germany just yesterday (for example, teleconsultations with doctors) has become available across the country in just a few weeks due to corona, said Rudolf Dück, IT Manager of UKSH, at the start of the Hackathon.

Nursing robot with face looks at you

From patient apps to medical robots

The 26 Challenges, which a motley group of 130 programmers and health experts from Germany and abroad worked on within a few hours, had a remarkably concrete connection with current issues in the German healthcare system. Ten projects, such as FirstAid Kid, revolved around patient apps or self-diagnosis via smartphone, while seven others dealt in detail with clever extensions of hospital IT systems. Future-oriented projects in robotics and artificial intelligence rounded off the field of participation. After several hours of programming, each team had exactly four minutes to present their competition idea to the jury.

Improving and accelerating processes, relieving medical staff of unnecessary administrative work, reducing costs and at the same time strengthening patient sovereignty: these, in a nutshell, are the opportunities offered by digitalization in the healthcare sector. “The most recent Hackathon has clearly shown what innovative suggestions can contribute to future progress in healthcare – for the benefit of hospitals, but above all patients,” says Thomas Miller. As a member of the jury, the Executive Director of Research at Hamburg Commercial Bank followed the Hackathon closely from start to finish (see interview).

Thomas Miller. Der Executive Director Research bei der Hamburg Commercial Bank

Thomas Miller, Executive Director Research at Hamburg Commercial Bank

Of course, many of the ideas will never be implemented at the end of the day. But in Miller’s words, that’s not what matters. “What’s much more important is that hospitals like UKSH benefit from networking with start-ups and reap the maximum value. With this format, the University Hospital has created a platform for virtual exchange, creativity and progress.” He also says that it brings people together who would not have collaborated otherwise. “Further projects will emerge from these new networks. In my opinion, that is the main benefit of a Hackathon like this,” Miller is convinced.

The seven winning teams will get down to the finishing touches in the coming weeks and months. The goal is firmly in sight and, hopefully after the pandemic is over, very real: going to Berlin for the next Healthcare Hackathon in 2021.