Journalist Wau Holland defined hackers as “people trying to figure out how to toast bread by using a coffee maker”. Whilst this level of creativity is not required for participants of this year’s Healthcare Hackathon in Berlin, they still had to work in interdisciplinary teams to develop ideas on how to provide solutions to health-and-care-related questions.
The series of events has been jointly initiated by the Health Innovation Hub of the German Federal Ministry of Health, the University Medical Center Schleswig-Holstein (UKSH) and the University Medical Center of the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz. During events in Berlin and Mainz, participants had the opportunity to present their concepts to an expert audience followed by critical reflection.
From health insurance companies to hospitals – a diverse team of specialists
One of the participants was Olaf Dörge, a senior business developer at Cerner. Along with employees of the University Medical Center Charité Berlin, the health insurance company BKK Verkehrsbau Union Berlin (BKK VBU), the IT manufacturer m.Doc, the service provider ‘Was hab’ ich?’ gGmbH, and M-sense migraine application manufacturer Newsenselab GmbH, Olaf formed a team to deal with the subject of patient information and compliance.
“I received an invitation from BKK VBU,” Olaf explains. “They partner with m.Doc, a company developing IT solutions for improved patient communication across different areas of health care. In turn, this cooperation established contact with additional partners, such as Charité. The University Medical Center collaborates with m.Doc and Cerner in developing existing IT solutions to the point where an active dialog with the patient becomes possible. This way, information is not only transmitted from the patient to the provider but also vice versa. Patients, however, need to understand this information – such as findings and results – to actively participate in their treatments. This is where ‘Was hab’ ich?’ comes into play.
“By rephrasing findings into a more understandable language to the layperson, the company offers some sort of translation service to patients. Since the patient understands what the results are about, compliance is demonstrably enhanced and the person requiring treatment becomes an active participant in the process. Led by the intention of working on a use case relevant to daily life, we chose to enhance an existing workflow in the context of treating migraines. With M-sense, Newsenselab GmbH has created an application to treat patients suffering from migraines by offering support to both the patient and the physician during diagnosis and therapy; reason enough to also jump on board of the project.
“The goal of the application is to reduce the disease burden and costs that arise from personalized migraine management. Tailoring the prescribed amount of medication more accurately to reduce or avoid side effects and abuse of pain medicines is one example of what is being done to achieve this goal. Due to Cerner’s close collaboration with Charité and m.Doc, which entails designing an ecosystem of highly specialized solutions, we were asked to become part of the team – especially because a comprehensive overall concept was needed instead of simply offering individual solutions.”
Simple use cases are far more complex than they appear
In theory, the use case (which was one of 23 presented by the team during the event) sounds fairly simple: a patient suffering from migraines sees her family doctor, who transfers her to Charité for further diagnosis and therapy. The patient uses an application provided by her health insurer on the basis of m.Doc to book her appointment: BKK VBU has made the application available to provide insured parties with several functions to contact service providers in a simple manner.
During her stay in the hospital, she is diagnosed with incipient kidney injury, which was caused by many years of pain medicine abuse. Therefore, her dose of analgesics is reduced. The application provided by the patient’s health insurer transmits relevant results or reports to her, such as the discharge summary from i.s.h.med®’s EHR. Without a medical background, however, she does not fully understand the content of the discharge summary, which is why she uses the ‘Was hab’ ich?’ service. She is now able to make sense of what her treatment is about and what she has to keep in mind.
The application provided by her health insurer offers a link to M-sense, which is a pain management program entailing several functions, such as an electronic pain diary, trigger analysis, relaxation techniques tailored to patients suffering from migraines as well as a medication tracker for the purpose of documenting the dose of pain killers. The patient is not only more inclined to follow her doctor’s advice; in fact, she is now provided with new opportunities to actively work against her complaints, thereby averting comorbidities.
One event, one use case, many outcomes
The mixed team of professionals from all areas of expertise collaborated closely and were able to create a detailed proof of concept. However, as Olaf Dörge is convinced, this is only one of the outcomes following the participation at Hackathon: “The event demonstrated what can be achieved in a fairly short period of time when experts of different institutions pull on the same string.
“Professionals from diverse institutions such as health insurance companies, service providers and IT manufacturers closely collaborating to jointly work out concepts is unfortunately still not common. We keep talking about ‘digitalizing health care’ – yet, we commonly fail to grasp the complexity of interrelations even when considering seemingly simple use cases such as the one we presented.”
Therefore, participants were delighted to see that high-ranking politicians took interest in the event. Among them was the German federal minister of health, Jens Spahn, who closely listened to comprehensive explanations on the challenges posed by implementing IT solutions into health care referring to the use case presented.
As Olaf Dörge stresses, this clearly underlines the importance of events such as the Healthcare Hackathon: “It is crucial to fully understand the complex underlying processes and requirements of individual contributors when striving to create cutting-edge IT solutions for health care. The health care IT ecosystem we are jointly creating with our partners represents a key component. It is, however, just as important that stakeholders, who are not directly involved in patient care, understand the significance of comprehensive IT solutions and take an active role towards promoting them or towards establishing a solid framework.
“It is all about developing solutions that become part of standard care instead of advocating flagship projects. To some, the workflow we have designed during the Hackathon may seem irrelevant when considering the ‘major’ issues in health care. Yet, we have to consider the fact that often, many patients simply do not understand what physicians or therapists are trying to tell them. This results quite frequently in irregular therapy attendance, which, in turn, costs Germany approximately EUR10 billion each year. This changes the picture dramatically.”
From an award-winning concept to a completed IT solution
Finally, the team members felt a great sense of achievement when their proof of concept related to the migraine workflow was chosen for an award. For Olaf Dörge, however, this is not the most important aspect: “The next step is to refine the concept and to design a project in close collaboration with everyone involved – and finally implement a convenient software solution everyone can benefit from.”
The Healthcare Hackathon series will continue in the future to remove the obstacles to implementing cutting-edge ideas and concepts; even if this means that there will never be a way to use a coffee machine to make toast!