Background: Medical students and healthcare professionals can benefit from exposure to cross-disciplinary teamwork and core concepts of medical innovation. Indeed, to address complex challenges in patient care, diversity in collaboration across medicine, engineering, business, and design is critical. However, a limited number of academic institutions have established cross-disciplinary opportunities for students and young professionals within these domains to work collaboratively towards diverse healthcare needs.
Methods: Drawing upon best practices from computer science and engineering, healthcare hackathons bring together interdisciplinary teams of students and professionals to collaborate, brainstorm, and build solutions to unmet clinical needs. Over the course of six months, a committee of 20 undergraduates, medical students, and physician advisors organized Stanford University's first healthcare hackathon (November 2016). Demographic data from initial applications were supplemented with responses from a post-hackathon survey gauging themes of diversity in collaboration, professional development, interest in medical innovation, and educational value. In designing and evaluating the event, the committee focused on measurable outcomes of diversity across participants (skillset, age, gender, academic degree), ideas (clinical needs), and innovations (projects).
Results: Demographic data (n = 587 applicants, n = 257 participants) reveal participants across diverse academic backgrounds, age groups, and domains of expertise were in attendance. From 50 clinical needs presented representing 19 academic fields, 40 teams ultimately formed and submitted projects spanning web (n = 13) and mobile applications (n = 13), artificial intelligence-based tools (n = 6), and medical devices (n = 3), among others. In post-hackathon survey responses (n = 111), medical students and healthcare professionals alike noted a positive impact on their ability to work in multidisciplinary teams, learn from individuals of different backgrounds, and address complex healthcare challenges.
Conclusions: Healthcare hackathons can encourage diversity across individuals, ideas, and projects to address clinical challenges. By providing an outline of Stanford's inaugural event, we hope more universities can adopt the healthcare hackathon model to promote diversity in collaboration in medicine.
Keywords: Hackathon; Interdisciplinary collaboration; Medical innovation; Medical technology.