3 lessons learned from hosting a radiology-specific hackathon

Hackathons are gaining popularity throughout the United States and can provide participants with a fun, competitive experience. Researchers from Yale University and the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut, recently hosted a three-day radiology-specific hackathon, sharing their experience in a case study published by the Journal of the American College of Radiology.

“There are few opportunities for upcoming and seasoned radiologists alike to gain experience working through challenges outside the clinical scope of practice: those related to technologic innovation, practice dynamics, and management of interdisciplinary and patient relations,” wrote lead author Kirsten Cooper, MD, department of radiology and biomedical imaging at the Yale School of Medicine, and colleagues. “These aspects of patient care extend far beyond clinical acumen and are essential in a medical environment that increasingly calls for efficiency, quality, and improved patient experiences. The health care hackathon offers a unique opportunity for radiologists to develop these extraclinical skills and to collaborate with stakeholders across the medical community.”

The event featured 200 participants, chosen from more than 350 applications. The group included physicians, engineers, business experts, designers and software developers. Day one included “introductory information and keynote speakers” as well as a social networking session. The second day began with ideas being pitched for the various teams to work on. Participants then broke off into teams and the “hacking” officially began. Each team had 24 hours to plan a solution to their chosen problem and then develop that solution. Day three, the final day, was when pitches were made and winners were selected.

“Certain outcomes of the hackathon are not yet appreciable, and in time, the direct impact of the event will hopefully become more tangible,” the authors wrote. They did learn a wealth of valuable information while developing and hosting the hackathon, however. These are three important lessons to take away from their experience:

1. Hackathons are a perfect opportunity to identify and analyze challenges.

Cooper et al. noted that the very nature of how hackathons work means that participants spend a lot of time identifying and analyzing challenges they encounter on a daily basis. On an average work day, there may just not be enough time to sit down and think about ways to improve things at the practice. During a hackathon, on the other hand, such brainstorms are necessary.

At this particular event, for example, some of the pain points discussed were training techniques that needed to be improved and errors in medication administration.

“In addressing the pressure points, teams had to work through the steps of product development, consider everything from product concept and function to design and production, and create an appropriate business model,” the authors wrote. “This type of active learning is infrequently available to clinicians outside a direct clinical or industrial setting.”

2. Hackathons can serve as a “launching pad” for teams with big ideas.

The three-day event produced several fascinating ideas. The top prize of $1,500, for instance, went to an interactive app that offers peer-to-peer counseling for veterans using facial expression analysis. The authors explained that participating in a hackathon is a potential “launching pad” for any final product idea. The next great medical imaging solution could be born in a hackathon; the only way to find out is to host an event and see what happens.

3. It takes a lot of time, energy and money to host a hackathon—but it’s worth it.

Hosting a radiology-specific hackathon is no simple task, but Cooper and colleagues emphasized the fact that interest in their idea was high among potential sponsors. They added that, at the end of the day, every minute of their hard work was worth it.

“Although a hackathon event requires substantial financial and organizational input, the recent experience at our facility demonstrates that a radiology hackathon can provide an opportunity for radiologists to gain experience in health care innovation, an aspect of clinical practice not emphasized in traditional clinical training environments, and act as a platform for radiology departments to identify opportunities for improvement in clinical practice and gain visibility within the larger medical community,” the authors concluded.