Sometimes, hackers have to work on meaningless problems in windowless cubicles. But on Saturday, a group of number crunchers and tech enthusiasts gathered at Microsoft’s sun-soaked Cambridge offices to find new ways to use health data.
Last week’s “code-a-thon” was the latest “Developer Challenge” hosted by a Health 2.0, a group that organizes conferences around the rich possibilities at the intersection of data, technology and health.
Here’s how Health 2.0 puts it on their website:
Healthcare has big challenges. And technology might not solve them all. But we believe in progress one app at a time. Have a technical problem that needs working out? An app you wish existed? Data that’s sitting on the shelves getting dusty that could be made more useful?
In other words, hospitals, insurers and policy makers have been capturing huge amounts of health data and mining it for years. This effort aims to use that information — much of it in public data sets— for more than claims analysis, and utilization review. With the rise of mobile communication, do-it-yourself science and the quantified self, it’s time to let the hackers at it.
So, with the sponsorship of DIY magazine “Make,” the event attracted about a 100 people, including programmers, web designers and wired epidemiologists. Sitting with his laptop open in an airy space overlooking the Zakim Bridge, Jason Morrison said he is a big fan of gatherings like this one. A web developer for a Boston company called thoughtbot, he finds it satisfying to work on health problems.
“It is a very ripe field for people to come in and use all this data and then turn it into information and knowledge people can use,” Morrison said. Ideally, the event would produce “actionable” tools that people can use to change their behavior or find information on treatments they might be interested in, he said.
At the end of the day, coders were expected to regroup and present their ideas. Click here for a link to Health 2.0 news site to find out who won.
In this video report, Morrison (in the black jacket) and others talk about what brought them to the meeting. Postdoc Rumi Chunara of the Children’s Hospital Boston made a presentation on using HealthMap for real time epidemic surveillance. Psych resident Daniel Karlin wants to track prescribing trends and Bio-hacker Mac Cowell, of DYI Bio Boston, talks about inventing a home PCR kit for those interested in DIYgenotyping.