Carlos Mateos: "Professionals, patients and developers have worked together for the first time, creating applications and programs aimed at improving healthcare"
On the weekend of 6 and 7 May, Madrid (Campus Google) hosted the 1st Health Hackathon, organised by ComSalud. The term hackathon combines the concept of marathon and hacker and is used to refer to a meeting of programmers with the aim of their developing software in collaboration. Although this is a concept which has long been around in the field of technology and programming, this was the first meeting organised for the different players (programmers, healthcare professionals, engineers...) to work on solutions focused on the field of health. Taking advantage of the presence of TicSalut as a member of the jury, we interviewed Carlos Mateos, director of ComSalud and coordinator of this initiative.
- More than 30 applications presented, #hackathonsalud was TT throughout the weekend, more than €7,000 in prizes... although it is still very recent, what balance would the organisation make of this first edition and what have you learned from the experience?
The experience has exceeded all expectations. It was the first time that professionals, patients and developers had worked together in a hackathon to create applications and programs intended to improve healthcare. We had a great team of mentors, formed by healthcare professionals and telecommunications engineering and programming specialists, to advise the teams, and very fruitful synergies were created. The result were ideas with great potential, a scientific and technical base and a great chance of success. I think we all learnt a lot from the experience.
- How did the initiative of organising the 1st Hackathon in Health arise, and what was the sector’s involvement in the initiative?
In ComSalud we already had experience in organising conferences related to technology in health, and especially health and video games and wearables, which have always been well-received among professionals, patients and managers, but we lacked the involvement of an important sector, which was that of the developers. And we saw that this was what was happening with technology in health: one the one hand, eHealth users failed to relate with those developing the applications and videogames, depriving them of scientific validity and preventing their meeting the needs of healthcare professionals and patients; and apps and programs were being conceived by those with a poor technological base, which made them fairly useless. We decided that we had to bring them all together and that the best way to do this was with a hackathon. When we announced it, it was very well received by each of the parties, they all offered to give us their support as mentors, jury, or with some prize.
- In some cases, teams formed on-site and with different profiles (nurse and programmer, doctor and engineer...) who had come alone with an idea and needed co-operation to offer a solution. Is this capacity to cooperate and understand the needs from each point of view, what we know as the quadruple helix, maybe the greatest challenge when we transfer it to large-scale, company, University, Administration...?
Yes, cooperation is a need in transforming healthcare and making it sustainable in an ever ageing population. And as we saw at the hackathon, it is easy to put experts from different fields to work on a common project if the idea is good and they want to make a contribution. There are many people who are frustrated by the funding difficulties that this involves, but when the project is sustained by specialists in each field (technology, medicine, communication...) it ends up convincing those who have to take the decision to invest in it.
- An application to monitor patients with epilepsy, a chair with sensors which warns you when your body posture is not right, or a system of notifications for relatives of patients in intensive care, are just a few examples of solutions presented over the weekend. What is the future of the solution likely to be? Will you make some kind of follow-up in the organisation?
For the moment we will announce the winning projects and put them in contact with companies interested in investing in technology applied to health. We will also publish the other ideas on the website, and invite the conceivers to take part at the eHealth congress we want to organise in October. It is very likely that some of these ideas will become reality, but what I am absolutely sure of is that all of the participants have learnt that the best projects are the fruit of collaboration between professionals, patients and developers, and that this will enable them to transform healthcare.
- Key concepts such as "gamification", "monitorisation" and "big data" were repeated in many of the solutions. Is the sector in good Digital Health?
It depends on how we look at it. If we compare the possibilities of technology and health with modern healthcare we might feel disappointed, as there is still a long way to go. It is true that the digital medical record and electronic prescription have been brought in, but patients are still unable to access their medical record when they change community or even when they go from the public to the private system. What’s more, the initiatives of health gamification, Big Data, wearables, applications and interoperability have multiplied. We have very good projects which have demonstrated their success, but these have to be spread.
- A couple of months ago, TicSalut presented the mHealth Office, a project supported by the Health Department, the Department of Employment, Social and Family Affairs, and Fundació TicSalut itself, and which received the collaboration of the Mobile World Capital Barcelona Foundation. The office was set up to be at the service of the sector, to offer services such as the certification of APPs, and will be an observatory of international trends and offer advice on mHealth projects. Amongst the participants, what needs did you detect and what do you think of these kinds of initiatives promoted by the Administration?
I think that it is a necessary initiative. In fact, in the Association of Researchers in eHealth we are working in the same direction. Healthcare professionals and patients have to be guided on which technological solutions are valid and which are not, and the area of recommendation must be national and even transnational. It makes no sense for each autonomous community to have its own evaluating agency, because technology knows no borders.