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Tracking innovative ideas at Healthcare's Grand Hackfest and beyond

Nicola Parry on March 25, 2014

Dr. Marjory Bravard

Dozens of teams spent the weekend at Healthcare’s Grand Hackfest brainstorming on novel ideas to solve problems in healthcare. And at least some of the participants continue to pursue projects that got their start during the Hackfest.

Marjory Bravard, MD, a specialist in internal medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in Boston, and team kicked off the weekend designing a device to record patient-physician conversations, to help address the problem of incomplete documentation in medical encounters.

“There’s lots of talking in medicine, but not much is transcribed from the actual clinician-patient dialogue,” she said. This can have numerous repercussions, from patient dissatisfaction to liability issues.

However, Dr. Bravard discovered that another group had a similar idea, but was using a different approach. “They came in with a technology and were looking for a problem to solve, whereas we came in with a problem and were looking for a technology to solve it,” she said. So the team had to decide whether to continue with its design or change track. “I think that’s one of the things you’re supposed to learn from these hackathons – that pursuing an idea that doesn’t turn out to be quite perfect is OK – you can switch to something else,” said Dr. Bravard.

Ultimately the team diverted some of its focus to the microbiome. “I think the microbiome space is fascinating, it’s really the next big field of medicine – we’re really only starting to understand what we don’t understand about it,” Dr. Bravard said. She emphasized that “… the technology [to sequence the microbiome] exists, so I think the question is how do you set up a business model so that people are interested in paying money to find out about their microbiome. A couple of companies are starting to go that way, but no one has really figured out what people are willing to pay for, and why.”

Dr. Bravard sees this as a step toward figuring out how the microbiome impacts health, and ultimately how it might help address many health issues, including obesity. However, she realizes that one stumbling block is that people would initially be paying for information that isn’t yet understood and can’t be interpreted. “But I do think a lot of people are interested in what’s going on inside their bodies, and with their digestion,” she said. “So if you’re truthful about the limitations, I think there are still people who would be interested.”

On the final day of the hack, the team spent time networking with colleagues about both ideas. This included a group from MGH TeleHealth, exploring the potential for a pilot study on recording clinician-patient encounters.

A week later, Dr. Bravard continued to explore both ideas. She remains focused on the team’s original recording device, but recognizes that one major hurdle to overcome will be integrating the recording into the electronic medical record. And she has already met up with a team member to discuss the microbiome project further, and they plan to meet again soon. Dr. Bravard’s passion for this particular field is obvious. “The microbiome is so fascinating to me, in that we really don’t understand it, and it has so much potential…. I’m interested in the mystery about it all,” she said. “I want something that gets me out of bed in the morning.”

Healthcare’s Grand Hackfest is the first in the Kauffman Foundation’s six-city Energizing Health Collaboration Series.

Category:  Ideation  Tags:  innovation, ideation

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