Hacking for health: Health 2.0 Developer Challenge

Indu Subaiya on the intersection of data, developers and healthcare.

Following on their success last year, Health 2.0 is hosting code-a-thons in three cities as part of their Developer Challenge: San Francisco, CA on January 29th, Washington, D.C. on February 12th, and Boston, MA on February 19th.

The day will bring together developers, designers, researchers, care providers, patients, and anyone else interested in improving healthcare by building new applications and tools.

Here’s a sampling of some of the open challenges that have been submitted by public and private organization (you can see the full list at the challenge site):

To support this great cause, O’Reilly’s Maker Media division will be co-sponsoring the Boston event by bringing some open source hardware (Arduinos, sensors, etc), experts, and maybe even a Kinect or two to the teams participating in the Veterans Health Wireless Innovation Challenge. (More details to come as we get closer to the event.)

Strata: Making Data Work, being held Feb. 1-3, 2011 in Santa Clara, Calif., will focus on the business and practice of data. The conference will provide three days of training, breakout sessions, and plenary discussions — along with an Executive Summit, a Sponsor Pavilion, and other events showcasing the new data ecosystem.

Save 30% off registration with the code STR11RAD

I recently caught up with Indu Subaiya (@bluetopaz), the co-founder of Health 2.0 and the director of the developer challenge, to ask a few questions about code-a-thons and data (Indu is also speaking on the Healthcare and Medicine panel at Strata).

Why should developers care about health and health care?

Indu Subaiya: I think there’s a unique opportunity now with light-weight, cloud-based tools
and people getting more and more engaged with self-tracking and wanting to
play an active role in their own health to really make a difference.
Technology in health care is ripe for disruption — while things are getting
better, the state of play is stuff that’s still too clunky, expensive and
designed with no sentient being in mind! Also, now more than ever, you
don’t have to be from the business to build something that’s going to make
sense for users, because health is everyone’s business.

Walk us through a typical code-a-thon. What should someone expect?

Indu Subaiya: You roll in not too early — a healthy breakfast is laid out by 8:30, but you can
filter in by 9:00/9:30. Maybe you come with some concrete ideas or maybe
you’re a blank slate and just curious. People with ideas will pitch them
informally to the group. past codeathons have generated about a dozen ideas
in the morning. E.g., “I want to build a mobile app that reminds me to take
my meds” or “I’m really interested in helping track my weight or what I
eat.” Those get written up on a pieces of paper hanging around the room and
people sign up and join groups based on their interest.

You meet with your group and start brainstorming and planning. You might draw sketches, make wireframes, if you’re lucky, recruit a graphics or UI designer, you might
start perusing the datasets that have been made available, and soon you’ll
start coding. The room gets pretty quiet actually. It’s a sea of laptops and
whiteboards. We provide lunch and snacks, coffee, juice … so you can take
frequent breaks. And in one corner of the room, there are a series of 15-20
minute talks going on: people sharing APIs, giving an overview of a dataset
or sharing some specialized technical or design knowledge. By about 6 in the
evening, you could have a basic, live app up and you present that to a panel
of judges. Winners could walk away with $500 and advance to a future round
with bigger prizes. The judges feedback tends to be really helpful too and
a lot of teams iterate over the next few days based on it.

What are some of the applications that have been created through the
developer challenge?

Indu Subaiya: More than 100 submissions have come through over the
past few months, here are some of the winners of the online challenges that
people worked on:

How important is data in healthcare?

Indu Subaiya: It’s at the heart of everything. We think of data in healthcare
as individual (from user-reported to data in medical records), population
data (like community health rankings), reference data (like drug and
nutrition databases). Now with the open gov movement pushing for a lot of
data to be released that was previously unavailable to the public, the
explosion of consumer devices that help track health data, and also with
tech platform companies opening up APIs there is a huge opportunity to build
pretty sophisticated apps that capture and integrate different types of data
and present very rich user experiences.

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