Adventures in H@cking Medicine

Code-a-thon, hack-a-thon - have you been to one of these?
I attended my first, today, at MIT, organized by and focused on H@cking Medicine.

Here's the scene...
More than 100 engineers, doctors, start-up veterans and students packed a stark white room at MIT.  The day began with speakers meant to inspire, whose message ranged from "Health care is broken - blow it up and start over," to "Health care is broken, fix it from within."

Here are some highlights...
Jamie Heywood, the CEO at Patients Like Me is in the "Blow health care up and start over" camp.   He laid out one rule. "Anything someone tells you in medicine, that you have a disease, or that we have a drug that works, or that we are making decisions based on evidence is NOT TRUE."  Heywood's controversial views are rooted in years of helping care for and research treatments for his brother Steven, who died from ALS.

Heywood told hackers, "Don't look to cure disease, look to cure health care."

He said: "The concept that the doctor is the center of our care" will end and that we, patients, "will manage our own data" and care, but we'll need tools.  That's where hacking comes in.

Sutha Kamal, the CEO at Massive Health, is also in the blow-it-up group.

Kamal gave hackers three tips:
1) Understand Feedback Loops (give users immediate gratification or at least satisfaction).
2) Speed Counts (using an online tool/service has to be fast without sacrificing performance)
3) Ask the Right Question (of your users so that they get the most out of the experience)

Sridhar Iyengar, the CTO at AgaMatrix, explained how his firm developed biosensors to help diabetics monitor their glucose levels.  Iyengar warned hackers that getting good data on the problem they want to solve can be hard. He urged entrepreneurs not to overlook the hard tasks (regulation, marketing, analysis, etc.) needed to bring a product to market.

Bob Nix, the Principal Architect at AthenaHealth, says his company is transforming health care from within.  AthenaHealth handles the administrative work for 30,000 doctors around the country. Nix said Atheahealth will consider research requests to use data collected from these docs.

One sidebar...all these companies are hiring.

In between and after the speakers, hackers met in small groups to brainstorm ideas and start to plan projects. If you can get in tomorrow, you'll hear some cool final proposals.

This program aired on October 22, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

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Martha Bebinger Reporter
Martha Bebinger covers health care and other general assignments for WBUR.



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