Monday, 16 July 2018

Getting Involved as a Patient Advisor: The Hackathon Files

In the middle of October I was a judge and patient advisor at a Hackathon put on by the Arthritis Society at the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto. #ArthritisHack

I had never been to a hackathon before, and to be a judge on my first experience was worrying, but one thing I know a lot about is living with arthritis, apps for chronic illness, and patient engagement. That helped me to take the step into the unknown.

You might wonder what actually happens at a hackathon and how a patient or caregiver can get involved. I found out it's all about design, like a race to produce a great solution for a problem in the space of a weekend or less. Those involved in doing this include software developers, graphic designers, interface designers, project managers, and in this case rheumatologists and patients who have arthritis as experts on the subject of arthritis.  

A Hackathon incorporates a user-centered-design process, so the creators start by talking to the intended users of the applications they plan to build.
Hackathon themes

The first night got off to a great start with introductory speeches from the sponsors and #HackingHealthTO. Patient group leader Dawn Richards was there from CAPA (Canadian Arthritis Patient Alliance) and spoke about arthritis and the issues involved to put the disease into perspective for the teams and sponsors.

CAPA VP Dawn Richards inspiring the teams

Some of those attending as mentors were good friends who I have met through other engagement activities.

Karen and me above; Lene Andersen of The Seated View blog in lower picture

There were 11 teams there using their skills and creativity to produce the next amazing app. Both patients and doctors gave advice about what was practical, desirable, useful - what would make the app something that could help people.

Mike Stone of Lilly Canada and Dr Rachel Shupak

Dr Philip Baer with Isabel Vezina of Hacking Health and Michelle Mika 

The Arthritis Society held this event with sponsors Eli Lilly Canada  and Cossette. The Lilly team produced the food and display below to illustrate some of the problems involved with rheumatoid arthritis. The prizes for winners of the competition include coaching and marketing help to the winning solutions into shape to compete for people's attention.

Opening jars and lifting cups are other issues with joint damage from RA

It was great to see so many people pitching in to help people living with arthritis. 

Here's everyone involved in the Hackathon - the big team

And here's a picture of the winning team- Team Kizuna

The winner was an app that is all about community. You'll have to wait for the future to see it in action. Keep watching The Arthritis Society website.

Janet Yale of The Arthritis Society

And Janet Yale, the CEO of The Arthritis Society, gave us a final goodbye with thanks for all of the great ideas and great results.

This post also appeared in the Canadian Arthritis Patient Alliance Newsletter December, 2017


  1. What a great event. Bravo to the winners

    1. The teams worked all weekend non-stop to come up with their demonstration presentations. One that did not win sounded good to me. It was for kids with JIA and gave them a virtual pet, to encourage them to do healthy activities.

  2. It's so interesting Annette to see just what goes on at these events that you go to. Great ideas and I'm sure these apps are so useful to so many of us.

    1. Thanks Gilly. It was very interesting to watch the coders and designers do their work, and to answer questions about what ideas as though they would be helpful.