In recent years, dermatology has seen significant advancements in understanding and treatment for many skin diseases. Despite these successes, challenges remain for a wide range of actors (e.g. pharma, academic institutions, clinicians, researchers) who struggle to implement collaborative and creative ideation practices and processes that continuously support and nurture innovation.
In many cases, this is the result of a risk-averse mindset that tends to plague organizations and prevent teams from pursuing projects with the potential to disrupt inefficiencies and deficiencies in the status-quo that could drastically improve care for patients.
In the last decade, hackathons have emerged as a popular and productive method to explore out-of-the-box ideas that solve difficult problems. Hackathons are sprint-like events that bring together teams of people from different fields, typically over a three-day period, to brainstorm and design new technology solutions. Originally conceptualized among groups of computer programmers, hackathons have made their way into the medical field.
MIT Hacking Medicine is a student-run group that first brought hackathons to healthcare in 2009. Already, we’ve seen a number of high impact companies, such as PillPack, born out of this group’s hackathons. Hackathons are also a great way for clinicians, including dermatologists, to engage with others who need their domain expertise. Dermatologists get to work with individuals with completely different toolsets in software, engineering, product development, etc. Often, patients are involved in the hacking process as mentors and participants.
Not all hackathons are created equal, and we believe that medical hackathons require a very different approach than the traditional tech-focused initiatives. Hacking Medicine Institute (HMi), an organization founded in 2011 out of MIT, is currently the most influential group working to tackle medical hackathons. In 2018, Advancing Innovation in Dermatology (AID), LEO Science & Tech Hub and Hacking Medicine Institute formed a partnership to establish one of the first ever dermatology-focused hackathons. Hacking Dermatology was designed with a distinct and refined focus on the dermatology industry and diseases of the skin.
Now entering its second year, Hacking Dermatology (September 13 – 15, 2019, Boston) is using a specialized framework and methodology to support the discovery and development of transformative solutions for some of dermatology’s most pressing challenges. This article is a call to action for dermatologists to directly get involved.
Setting the stage for success
A central goal of Hacking Dermatology is to build a community of people interested in collaborating to improve the current standards of care for patients with skin disease. The “Frame” or “Pre-Hack” is used to organize the process and align a talented group of stakeholders and participants. Contributing physicians, scientists and business leaders from AID, LEO, and HMi serve as the foundation, and other experts and patients are invited to contribute ideas at this stage. This group comes together at the outset to determine problems worth solving in dermatology based on their expertise and current industry trends.
The “pain points” they identify then evolve into challenge prompts that are introduced to the contestants. In 2018, the challenge statements covered a broad range of topics, including the use of AI in dermatology, measurement and evaluation of chronic diseases, gaps in diagnosis and treatment, treatment costs, and topical delivery of medication.