At weekend ‘hackathon,’ BC students pull all-nighter for healthcare

Innovation (and insomnia) were the name of the game at SFU-hosted ‘Lumohacks’ event

September 21, 2016

By Graham Templeton / Photo: Death to Stock Photos

All-nighters are nothing new in business or computing science, but they’re usually followed by a very strict sequence of actions: sleep, coffee, unearned snark, more coffee, and more sleep. At this weekend’s Lumohacks “hackathon” event, however, hard-working coders, designers, and would-be e-trepreneurs had no such luxury; after a frantic 24 hours of coding and app design in and around SFU’s Saywell Hall, they immediately had to switch gears into shaking hands and presenting their latest achievement for review.

For many entrants, that passion arose from the seriousness of their goal. Lumohacks set teams to create a revolutionary healthcare product or service, focused specifically on addressing an aspect of Canadian health that’s currently neglected. There’s a huge and quickly growing industry for medical apps and online services, but innovations in this area tend to simply take an existing portion of the healthcare industry, and bring it online. Apps like HealthTap and DoctorOnDemand can affect an enormous number of people, but only because doctors affect an enormous number of people.

The teams at this weekend’s hackathon, made up of students from both SFU and UBC, were tasked with thinking further outside the box. They found a wide variety of targets to address.

Automated pill dispenser app created with 24 hours of coding

One team designed, built, and assembled an automated pill dispenser in just this single day’s work. Their achievement drives home the impact of modern 3D printing, which allowed them to take their idea from a computer blueprint to a physical object quickly enough for construction and even bug-fixing to occur before the hackathon deadline. The team hopes their invention will help patients avoid making mistakes when counting out pills, and even help doctors more reliably change their patients’ dosages.

Another team designed a simultaneously heartbreaking and uplifting new app with the bittersweet name of Troopers. It’s aimed at addressing some of the most difficult emotional issues arising from prolonged medical treatment of children, in particular debilitating chemotherapies. Its goal is to break down the barriers that exist within families in the modern Canadian healthcare system, especially between patients and well-meaning loved-ones. Its interface can remove tension from simple tasks like setting schedules for chores or socialization, or even making potentially awkward requests for things like alone time.

Ideas were diverse, to say the least. There was a cooking and nutritional community site aimed specifically at patients with dietary restrictions, helping them to share recipes that work best for them. There was a rehabilitation app for breast cancer patients that watches physiotherapy arm exercises and provides feedback on how well the patient is performing the assigned movements.

Medical hackathon solutions include information and scheduling

The medical software industry may be booming but its core innovations focus largely on a patient’s access to diagnosis and medical consultation, or to databases of medical information.

As one Troopers team member pointed out, compared to physical well-being, patients’ emotional well-being “gets very little attention,” and online platforms are perfectly suited to provide that attention in the future. The well-being of families and loved-ones can get even less attention.


qleo-journaling-appOne team showcases their “Qleo” journaling app to help kids communicate feelings with parents. (Source: Twitter/@shawnjan8)

Of course, while all the teams produced intriguing and potentially important presentations, the Lumohacks judges did declare a winner as the weekend drew to a close. After perusing the results from almost two dozen hard working teams of students, judges handed out 1st prize honors to a project called Flourish.

The Flourish app focuses on easy task scheduling between patients, family, and healthcare providers, addressing one of the simplest but somehow most intractable aspects of healthcare: keeping patients feeling informed and in control of their own treatment.

As with several other apps developed during Lumohacks, Flourish uses principles in game design to make patients more likely to actually do their medical chores. The approach was to make the experience as approachable as possible, in particular for children; the Flourish team even designed and printed a cute mascot for the app, which leads patients through the on-screen experience and entices children to keep exploring its features.

While winning teams did receive considerable collections of “swag,” the most creative and interesting projects generated the real prize: input and mentorship from the event’s many experienced professors and professionals. Their guidance could be the difference between a world-changing idea fizzling out now, or making its way all the way to market.

Organizers said Lumohacks drew in more than 700 registered attendees – which says something for an event held on the weekend, at the top of Burnaby Mountain.

“It’s amazing,” said one attendee while marvelling at the pill dispenser project. “[Healthcare] is one of those places where, with just a bit of time, you can really affect people’s lives for the better.”

 

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