Hacking Health Ottawa Hackathon 2018: Two Pilot Projects Selected for CHEO Hospital

Ottawa seems to have gradually yet steadily established itself as one of the primary meeting points and hubs for Canada’s cybersecurity and IT community. The Hacking Health Ottawa Hackathon 3-day event took place in the city as a culmination of the Health Innovation digital health workshop series. From Friday, April 27 and for three full days until Sunday, April 29, Shopify’s offices that served not only as a host but also as the event’s sponsor filled with healthcare professionals and developers who joined forces to address healthcare challenges.

Hackathons as a Tool for Long-Term Change

Hackathons are a favorite in the IT world, used for fastpace, collaborative efforts. Usually spanning a short period of time that adds to the intensity of the activities going on, a hackathon brings together programmers and other professionals that are crucial to the project at hand (in this case, healthcare experts) in order to code in a sprintlike manner on a focused subject. The end result is usually highly creative, with lots of innovative ideas and great code produced during an enjoyable, hands-on experience where talented programmers get to put their skills to good use under guidance from industry leaders.

The Hacking Health Ottawa’s #HIP613 Hackathon gathered a lot of attention as it came as the result of a series of efforts by the Health Innovations Program. The Program’s aim extends beyond the specific event and aspires to build solutions that have a far-reaching effect on the country’s healthcare system, with a specific focus on children treated at CHEO Hospital. Last year’s successful hackathon event led to the development of a total of 13 projects, with two of them already implemented as pilot programs at CHEO Hospital. During the event, teams pitch ideas and get feedback on them from healthcare experts in order to develop apps and tools that can be used in the real world.

The Projects that Stood Out

There is a long way to go from pitching and coding to actually realizing and implementing a solution and a lot of technicalities to be worked out. For instance, a web-based healthcare application would need to be refined for large datasets and integrated with cybersecurity solutions like a web application firewall (WAF) to help filter out malicious visitors and protect against OWASP Top 10 attacks like SQL injections and XSS attacks, as hospitals have also become targets for hackers. Nevertheless, there is a lot of potential for coders to see their efforts get picked up by experts in an industry that is always in need of novel and bright ideas.

This explains why the 150 hackathon participants were far from discouraged and really gave it their all, with each of the 25 projects that were initially pitched in 60 seconds gathering a fair amount of support. After roughly 40 hours of work, the hackathon came to an end on Sunday, with Sparkboard Project #59 on Patient Wait Time and Sparkboard Project #2 on a Sleep Apnea Diagnostic Tool each getting a coveted spot as a CHEO Pilot Opportunity Prize Project. Other selected projects include a Hematology/Oncology Database, a Smart Post-Operative Knee Brace and a Critical Congenital Heart Disease Screening tool.

It is true that when people come together and join efforts, great things can happen. Harnessing all this energy and excitement to such a noble cause is a true accomplishment in itself.