Health Challenges & the Open Government Initiative

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Congratulations again to all teams who participated in Hacking Medicine Round 2! A lot of chatter on our blog has been about the private sector and business issues faced by groups and organizations trying to hack medicine and healthcare. In addition to the private sector issues, activities in the health care industry are heavily regulated by both federal and state initiatives and regulations, influencing the delivery of health care services in the United States and how you and I receive health care in this country.

Many of you may have seen the emergence of various corporate-sponsored challenges and prizes to stimulate innovation in health care (i.e. Data Design Diabetes, sponsored by sanofi-aventis). Beyond the business plan competitions and startup accelerators out there, there are a plethora of government-sponsored health challenges for which teams interested in hacking health care can compete. The Obama administration’s Open Government Initiative, issued by former Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Peter Orszag as part of the Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government passed on January 21, 2009, authorized Federal agencies to use “challenges, prizes, and other incentive-backed strategies to find innovative or cost-effective solutions to improving open government.”

My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of Openness in Government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government. – President Obama, 01/21/09

The Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government set forth the following steps for executive agencies and departments to meet in order to meet the goals of a more open government, which include the three tenets of Transparency, Participation and Collaboration. These steps are:

1. Publish government information online.

2. Improve the quality of Government information.

3. Create and institutionalize a Culture of Open Government.

4. Create an Enabling Policy Framework for Open Government.

Step 3 is the portion of the Directive that catalyzed the beginnings of government-sponsored challenges for federal agencies, as it gave the OMB between 45 and 90 days to establish a working group to provide a forum to share best practices on formulating and sharing innovative ideas promoting openness and transparency in government, as well as designing a framework for incentive-based challenges to promote innovation in the United States.

The end result is this:, an online platform which compiles the list of all federally-sponsored challenges in all areas, from science & technology to energy solutions to defense and education. There are 53 (count ’em, 53!) government-sponsored challenges in the Health category and although some of them are closed and winners announced, there are still a few that are still open for entry. Check it out, and good luck!

Next Steps

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Hacking Medicine Round 2 just finished up this last weekend. It was fantastic!  Honestly the group that collected was an impressive mix of 18 year old hackers, experienced graduate level engineers, business students, medical students and seasoned medical professionals.

And there were hundred dollar bills flying through the air?  I mean who thought healthcare could be this fun?!?

As we start to put the weekend in the rear view mirror we are ever focused on the next steps.  You’ve got a great project, now what?

This certainly isnt a one size fits all situation, but most of these projects are at a perfect phase for one of the accelerators, business plan competitions, or health prizes.  Toward that end, here is a list of places to look for further mentorship and seed money.  As always, if you have a project you are working on and need help, email us at and we’ll try to be helpful.

Business Plan Competitions and Health Prizes (Let us know if we forgot any):

  1. Health 2.0 Childhood Obesity: – Apps Due: April 2, 2012
  2. Data Design Diabetes: – Apps Due: March 23, 2012
  3. MIT $100K: – Apps Due: March 16, 2012
  4. HBS Biz Plan Competition: – Apps Due: March 22, 2012

Accelerators and Incubators:

  1. TechStars: – Boston/New York/Boulder/Seattle
  2. Blueprint Health: Due: June 8th, 2012
  3. Rockhealth:
  4. Healthbox:
  5. StartupHealth:

Not Health Specific but still worth it:

  1. Mass Challenge:
  2. YCombinator (not health specific):
  3. DreamIt:

There are many more but this should get you started.

Hacking Medicine 2012 – Presentation Guidelines

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We’re happy to announce that we’re awarding THREE prizes of $1000:
Biggest Idea
Best Pitch
Most Progress

We’re capping presentations to a hard 5 minutes.

The judging guidelines:

What is the problem?
What solutions exist?
How is yours better?

Technical Details
What are the specifications?
Software – demo / Wetlab – details
What will it take to reach a full demo?

Next Steps
Customer Validation
Path to Market

What did you get done this weekend?

Hackable Areas of Medicine

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We are just 12 hours aways from Hacking Medicine #2.

Its been 4 short months (almost to the day) since we ran the first Hacking Medicine and since then we have learned a lot!  What follows is my own personal list of the most hackable areas of medicine with some comments about the challenges within each one.  This is by no means a complete list – it is simply the one I sit with every morning and evening before bed:

Consumerifying Health: Consumers are rarely in charge of their own healthcare.  Tools that help us end users take control of our own care are going to be increasingly important.  Specifically, here are some areas that I think need work:

  1. Making better decisions: we are notoriously bad at researching alternative options.  Our doctors tell us one thing and we go with it.  We need tools that help us first understand what the options are, but second these tools need to go past simple access to information and they need to help us truly appreciate the tradeoffs.  What is the difference in risk of one treatment over another?  How does the research in a given area of medicine support each of the different treatment options?
  2. Getting to choose our doctors and access them whenever we want: It is difficult to find reliable ratings on doctors and schedule appointments easily.  ZocDoc is working on various aspects of this problem, but we need a lot more.  We still cannot easily get a second opinion (or first opinion) online at any time (though HealthTap is working on this).
  3. Financial Control: increasingly, our health costs are covered by a complicated mixture of different benefits.  We don’t have a (a good one) for managing our health benefits.  Furthermore, we dont have anything to help us manage and understand how much we are spending on “wellness” – yoga classes, gym memberships, etc.
Moving down the specialty and facility curve: Increasingly, we are able to turn complex operations into simple devices, shrinking those devices and making them cheaper.  At each step we save significant money.  For example, moving complex open heart surgery out of the OR and into a doctor’s office by the introduction of modern stents can really bend the cost curve.
Accelerating Data: Data!  Data can be used in a variety of ways to transform healthcare, but one particular area is how to accelerate data?  Can we disrupt the way clinical research is done (ie PatientsLikeMe)?  Can we use data to better drive decisions inside of a hospital or to empower patients to make better decisions?
Population Health: In the New Yorker piece The Hotspotters, Atul Gawande pointed at that a very small portion of the population is costing a very significant amount of the overall healthcare costs.  How can we change this?  How can we use screening to prevent these acute cases from developing and turning into ER visits?  How can we selectively direct resources to specific citizens who need them most?
Behavior Change: Much of today’s consumer healthcare companies are focused on behavior change.  While this remains an elusive target there is no question that it is a holy grail worth seeking.  Most of the rise in healthcare costs is from chronic disease.  These are conditions (ie diabetes, obesity, etc) that can be dramatical affected by changing behavior.
Personalized Medicine: This can mean many things.  While there are challenges here for who will pay for this, it is clear that as we collect more data we will begin to know more about ourselves and what treatments work best for each of us.  How can we accelerate this?  Much of the research here is focused on using biomarkers and genetics to characterize “who we are”.   What other data sources should we be considering in order to characterize “who we are” and selectively suggest what treatments would work best for us?
Hospital Operations and Supply Chain: Our hospitals are notoriously inefficient.  What are we doing to apply operations research to hospitals to make them more efficient?  What about their supply chains?  They are ordering equipment they dont end up using and it is costing us tons of resources.  What can we do to help these institutions improve their efficiency and decision making processes?
These are but a couple of the areas worth working on, but hopefully it gets you fired up for this weekend and thinking about the potential.

Using Data as the Platform for an Integrated Enterprise Governance Model

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Data is important. Using data to measure company performance and understand customer tendencies has shown to have a positive financial impact in many industries. While healthcare systems may have gotten off to late start collecting and turning data into information, there have been significant improvements in the last decade. This can be seen in the increasing adoption rate of ambulatory electronic heath records in US healthcare systems (Timothy Ferris, Partners Healthcare). However, in order for healthcare systems to truly benefit from this information we need to take data analysis one step further. There needs to be a defined methodology for how this information should be used to make decisions and a defined appointment of authority to execute these decisions.

My intent is not to discredit data analysis. The process of turning data into information is no small feat – it requires a complicated, yet well defined, methodology for “governing” data from definition through analysis. Rather, my intent is to bring awareness to the need for an INTEGRATED governance model in healthcare systems. A governance model that provides standardization at the data level and empowers smart decision-making at the operational level. For example, there is a huge difference between having the knowledge about how many patients occupied your hospitals beds last month and having the capability to schedule hospital staffing around the number and type of patients predicted to be admitted in the next month. How can we get to this level of decision-making?

Let’s start with something familiar… during my experience as a management consultant, I learned that the process of governing data was implemented by performing three main tasks:

  1. Defining a clear set of standards for how data is defined and collected (aka data standardization)
  2. Selecting the location for and method of data storage (e.g. data warehouse)
  3. Determining the tools used to analyze and make sense of the data (e.g. queries and formulae that generate dashboards using historical information)

As far as the resources needed for implementation – an organization should complete the first step internally in order to ensure the data standards align with the objectives of all its stakeholders. Steps two and three can be handled both internally and/or externally as there are many established practices and vendors that offer solutions.

Is it too optimistic to assume process scalability? Perhaps. But I guess the real question isn’t whether the data governance process is scalable, but whether it can be applied at all levels of an enterprise, and, whether it can be applied in a way that catalyzes enterprise integration. If we, as a nation, are committed to improving the health of our population while decreasing the cost to care for individuals, we cannot stop at merely creating information. We need to combine data analytics with professional experience to make and execute insight-driven decisions – decisions that will increase the quality of care delivered while decreasing the cost to deliver it.

I look forward to discussing this and the many other hackable areas of medicine this weekend!

Hacking Medicine Spring 2012 – Feb 25-26

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We are proud to announce the second iteration of Hacking Medicine. Engineers, scientists, physicians, and entrepreneurs, in one location, creating disruptive healthcare solutions today.

If you want to radically change healthcare, then apply now: Bring your skills, your ideas, or both. We’re selecting 80 people just like you. Applications must be submitted by 11:59pm on Sunday, Feb. 19th to be considered!

Be part of the conference. Leave with a team, cash prizes, and a hack on its first steps towards becoming a company and disrupting healthcare.

To apply to be one of the 80:

Hacking Medicine takes place February 25th and 26th at the Media Lab at MIT. If you are selected we will send you more detailed logistics.

Check out our press coverage:

Healthcare needs you, come be part of the solution.

Hacking Medicine 2012 Agenda
February 25-26, 2012
MIT Media Lab 6th Floor

Day 1: Saturday February 25, 2012
9:30am – Registration Opens (Coffee and Bagels served)
10:15am – Opening Welcome Message
10:30 – 11:00am– Keynote Speaker
11:00 – 12:00pm – Idea Pitches
12:00 – 12:30pm – Group Assembly Part I
12:30 – 1:00pm – Group Assembly Part 2
1:00 – 5:30pm – Hacking
5:30 – 6:00pm – Wrap-up

Day 2: Sunday February 26, 2012
9:30am – Doors open with Coffee and Bagels
10:00am – All groups assemble, review judging requirements
10:00 – 3:30pm – Team Hacking
3:30 – 4:00pm – Turn in presentations
4:00 – 6:00pm – Teams present their work from the day and next steps.
6:00pm – Judges announce winners

Lunch time talk at MIT

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Highly recommend this talk if you are free:

The MIT VCPE Club is happy to host Michael Sheeley, Co-Founder and COO of FitnessKeeper, recently described as a “billion dollar company” by serial entrepreneur Jason Calacanis. FitnessKeeper raised $10 million in November, after a $1.5 million round last year — which they never spent, because the company was so profitable.

Come enjoy lunch with Mike and learn about how they did it.

Date: Thursday 12/8
Time: Noon – 1 PM
Location: E62-262
Why: Because you want to build a billion dollar company too…

MIT Media Lab – Health and Wellness Innovation 2012 – Come hack to save healthcare

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We are extremely excited to be helping out The New Media Medicine Group at the Media Lab.  Checkout the details below!
The MIT Media Lab is proud to announce that the Health and Wellness Innovation event is back for its third year!  Researchers, hackers, physicians, and industry experts, in one location, creating disruptive healthcare technologies today.The Challenge: Healthcare is in crisis; every year we spend more and get less.  At the core of the crisis is a lack of patient engagement.

Why: To learn what is working and what is not.  To meet a team of hackers, researchers, physicians, and industry pros.  To solve the healthcare crisis and save lives.  Oh yeah and if you aren’t convinced, there are $10,000 in prizes generously donated by Spark Capital.

When: Join us for two weeks from January 17th – January 27th, 2012.  Together we are going to build the next generation of technologies to engage and empower patients and save healthcare.

How: Apply now:

Healthcare needs you, come be part of the solution.

Go Viral Competition!

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2 of the Hacking Medicine teams (OnMotion and Podimetrics)  made it to the Elevator Pitch Competition finals this week and Podimetrics won the runner up award as well as the audience choice award. Congrats!!!

In the spirit of next steps we wanted to make sure everyone saw the upcoming Go Viral competition: and Blueprint Health

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In the spirit of looking for next steps in the Healthcare community around the Northeast we have two exciting new opportunities for you to look at.

The first is Blueprint Health – Here is a blurb about it:
Are you a healthcare entrepreneur or do you have a health or healthcare idea? Blueprint Health is a TechStars affiliated startup accelerator program based in NYC that helps early stage healthcare companies get started. Surround yourself with nearly 100 mentors – healthcare entrepreneurs, VCs and innovators – that want to help you succeed! Over the course of a 3 month program, we support entrepreneurs who are building innovative companies at the intersection of health and technology by providing capital, office space and most critically, access to the most robust community of healthcare mentors of any accelerator program. We encourage you to learn more and to apply to our Winter program, which starts January 9th, by visiting

The second place to take your new healthcare ideas is who is running a class at MIT over January (IAP):

As always let us know how we can help, and get out there and keep working on your ideas! Healthcare needs you.

-The Hacking Medicine Team