A Men Who Have Sex With Men-Friendly Doctor Finder Hackathon in Guangzhou, China: Development of a Mobile Health Intervention to Enhance Health Care Utilization

JMIR Mhealth Uhealth. 2020 Feb 27;8(2):e16030. doi: 10.2196/16030.


Background: Mobile health (mHeath)-based HIV and sexual health promotion among men who have sex with men (MSM) is feasible in low- and middle-income settings. However, many currently available mHealth tools on the market were developed by the private sector for profit and have limited input from MSM communities.

Objective: A health hackathon is an intensive contest that brings together participants from multidisciplinary backgrounds to develop a proposed solution for a specific health issue within a short period. The purpose of this paper was to describe a hackathon event that aimed to develop an mHealth tool to enhance health care (specifically HIV prevention) utilization among Chinese MSM, summarize characteristics of the final prototypes, and discuss implications for future mHealth intervention development.

Methods: The hackathon took place in Guangzhou, China. An open call for hackathon participants was advertised on 3 Chinese social media platforms, including Blued, a popular social networking app among MSM. All applicants completed a Web-based survey and were then scored. The top scoring applicants were grouped into teams based on their skills and content area expertise. Each team was allowed 1 month to prepare for the hackathon. The teams then came together in person with on-site expert mentorship for a 72-hour hackathon contest to develop and present mHealth prototype solutions. The judging panel included experts in psychology, public health, computer science, social media, clinical medicine, and MSM advocacy. The final prototypes were evaluated based on innovation, usability, and feasibility.

Results: We received 92 applicants, and 38 of them were selected to attend the April 2019 hackathon. A total of 8 teams were formed, including expertise in computer science, user interface design, business or marketing, clinical medicine, and public health. Moreover, 24 participants self-identified as gay, and 3 participants self-identified as bisexual. All teams successfully developed a prototype tool. A total of 4 prototypes were designed as a mini program that could be embedded within a popular Chinese social networking app, and 3 prototypes were designed as stand-alone apps. Common prototype functions included Web-based physician searching based on one's location (8 prototypes), health education (4 prototypes), Web-based health counseling with providers or lay health volunteers (6 prototypes), appointment scheduling (8 prototypes), and between-user communication (2 prototypes). All prototypes included strategies to ensure privacy protection for MSM users, and some prototypes offered strategies to ensure privacy of physicians. The selected prototypes are undergoing pilot testing.

Conclusions: This study demonstrated the feasibility and acceptability of using a hackathon to create mHealth intervention tools. This suggests a different pathway to developing mHealth interventions and could be relevant in other settings.

Keywords: MSM-friendly; crowdsourcing; hackathon; health care utilization; men who have sex with men; mobile health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • China
  • HIV Infections* / epidemiology
  • HIV Infections* / prevention & control
  • Health Promotion / methods*
  • Homosexuality, Male*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mobile Applications*
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care
  • Physicians
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Sexual and Gender Minorities
  • Social Marketing
  • Telemedicine*