A Recap of Hacking Health 2013

November 22, 2013 Ali Taiyeb

On November 8-10, over 400 participants (including approximately 75 physicians) gathered together to create health solutions within a 48 hour period. Hacking Health attendees included St. Michael’s Hospital, St. Joseph’s Health Centre, University Health Network, Baycrest, SickKids Hospital, and Mount Sinai Hospital.

Prior to the Hacking Health event, I had volunteered to recruit more developers and attendees for the hackathon. Pivotal Labs’ own Eli Aleyner and Mark D’Cunha served as mentors throughout the weekend and advised teams on how to create their health solutions.

Here are some insights I gained from Hacking Health:

3D Printing Creates Opportunities for Prosthetics

Where typically hackathons only involve software, Hacking Health incorporated 3D printing and a hardware section in this hackathon. This created new challenges for teams to tackle within a 48 hour period, but also provided new windows of opportunities for designers/developers and health practitioners looking to change the field of health.

For example, Project Porphyry is a solution that creates prosthetics more effectively than today’s manufacturers. It does this by developing technology for effectively and quickly scanning lower limbs, then using 3D scanning and printing technologies to create prosthetics more affordably. This means environmental factors (e.g., light, dust, etc.) become less of a concern and the process can be made more comfortable for patients. Project Porphyry will be particularly effective in developing countries, where the WHO estimated there is a shortfall of 40,000 trained prosthetic technicians.

Mobile and Monetization Strategy

While there were a slew of great concepts incorporating mechanisms such as social sharing and gamification, as well as stunning UX/UI designs, an oft-overlooked factor in these mobile health projects was the business model. Ad revenues and selling analytics are good monetization methods when companies have millions of users; however, especially in a healthcare app, getting to that level of users takes years of credibility and service. Where does the cash come from until then?

I wanted to highlight a few alternative business models that could be useful for future Hacking Health teams. For example, mobile health startup Better uses tiered subscriptions to generate revenue.

Another great recent example is MapMyFitness, a company recently acquired by Under Armour for $150M. While their mobile app is free (and ad-supported), they also have a premium “MVP” option with more advanced features.

Additionally, MapMyFitness also sells hardware products, exercise apparel, and additional peripherals through its online store. A staff member from one of MapMyFitness’ retail partners, Mio Global, said in an interview with ReadWrite that hardware was a powerful driver of revenues for fitness-app makers like MapMyFitness. MapMyFitness’ diverse revenue streams allow for a more secure business model that doesn’t necessarily need millions of users to generate cash.

Reducing Inefficiencies in Clinics and Hospitals

Along the lines of Twitter co-founder and Medium founder Ev Williams’ business advice (to take current processes and remove steps), many health companies are looking to make hospitals and clinics more effective. Local startups like Seamless Mobile Health – a CIX top 20 company – are looking to reduce hospital readmissions.

PatientFlow is a team dedicated to automating patient management. Instead of having the typical “patient flow coordinator” direct individuals to their respective exam rooms, PatientFlow is an automated room assignment system (similar to support desks).

Clinicue focuses earlier on in the process, helping patients find book, and arrive at a clinic to receive medical treatment. Users will be able to make more informed decisions about the lclinics they visit for treatment based on criteria such as estimated wait time, languages spoken, and travel distance.

Closing Thoughts

It’s remarkable what recent advances in wearable and mobile technology are debuting in the field of health and fitness. Hacking Health brought together the designer and developer community with health practitioners to create some extremely creative and innovative solutions. I’m excited for what’s on the horizon for health care and how the current systems and processes will evolve to treat more patients.


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