Collaborawhatnow?!

What do you get when you chuck some of healthcare’s biggest challenges to a group of (mostly) complete strangers, all bringing different backgrounds, experiences and talents? You get a chance to look at things differently. You get a new way to bring ideas together.

You get…a collaborathon.

One HealthTech Co-Founder Louise Sinclair opening and introducing the eHealth Week Collaborathon

The newly rebranded One HealthTech exists to support and promote women and other underrepresented groups in health innovation. Acknowledging and championing the need and importance for better inclusion of all backgrounds, skill sets and disciplines in health and technology, in order to build a health system that works for everyone, OHT brings together doers, thinkers and trailblazers to change the face of future healthcare. With this aim at their very core, the group rocked up to 2017’s ehealth week posing an alternative afternoon to the more traditional talks and panels…and hoped a brave subset would put themselves forward as guinea pigs for this innovative new brand of conference session.

They weren’t disappointed. Lured by the promise to try out some of healthcare technology’s newest and most exciting kit (and for some, the promise of a well-earned beer at the end), the collaborathon had a healthy turnout of eager participants

Getting things started

The afternoon kicked off with some motivating lightening talks from members of the One HealthTech network. They included Maxine Mackintosh and Louise Sinclair, founding directors of One HealthTech. Maxine explained the motivations behind the choice of the name ‘collaborathon’; with a recent experiment showing that the choice of wording of an event such as this can massively effect the turnout and those who self-identify that ‘this is relevant to me, I have something to offer’. Finding that words such as ‘hack’ and ‘coding’ had a negative impact on the correlation of female attendees, the word ‘collaborathon’ aims instead to be inclusive and appeal to all equally, maximising benefit from diverse representation.

Next followed a speedy official launch from NHS Digital’s Director of Digital Transformation, Beverley Bryant, who — in keeping with the quickfire nature of the afternoon’s events — quite literally ran to and from the stage in a short break from an important board meeting. Comedic though this may have been, Beverley’s determination to be present and show support to the event — despite other important events happening elsewhere — does show her commitment to the ethos behind the OHT movement, as a founding member and a prominent public figure in the world of healthcare technology.

On your marks, get set…

With introductions done and the teams motivated to get going, participants then heard pitches of four problems the afternoon was looking to solve through use of the latest technology. Participants then chose which problem or user need appealed to them most, and joined up with team members to look at that problem — and the tech available to solve it — in more depth.

With each of the four groups having attendance from a tech sponsor — Samsung, Microsoft, IBM Watson and MedeAnalytics — the teams each had a suite of the latest technology to explore, try out and consider what it brought to the table in terms of solving the problem posed.

Joining the Samsung group first — who were looking at the issue of increasing motivation for a healthy lifestyle — I was firstly struck by the diversity of the group in attendance. As we in turn introduced ourselves, we realised we had presence ranging across a wide spectrum from students to the retired, technologists, to doctors, to those representing charities including Cancer Research UK. With a main aim of OHT being to encourage different perspectives in healthcare design, I could see straight away that today was going to be a success.

With a lot to fit into a few hours, each activity had to be kept strictly to time. Louise — with her microphone and comical alarm of quacking ducks and barking dogs to aid her — had to become quite the hard taskmaster to keep the teams in the room on track, with so many ideas abounding and relatively little time to refine them all.

With firstly a more in-depth discussion of each problem, then an open opportunity to throw into the group as many ideas to solve the problem as possible (on brightly coloured post-its, naturally), teams then debated and chose a top three ideas, eventually voting and narrowing down to an agreed ‘chosen one’ which they would fully flesh out and present back to the room. Their pitches would be judged; with a winner chosen based on:

· the degree to which they’d addressed the problem

· use of technology

· innovativeness of the solution

· considerations for digital inclusion, unmet need, improving accessibility

· potential for realistic further development and usability

…not to mention bonus points for style and creative flair when presenting to the room.

Frantically running between groups to keep track of conversations and decisions, I could see clear themes between ideas selected. The best ideas were often those which were spotted across multiple post-its, and were often the result of multiple post-it ideas being merged together. True collaboration at its best.

Pitch perfect

With each team as primed and as ready as is possible in under two hours, the pitching process commenced.

Team IBM Watson presented MyHome, a smart home hub for GP interaction.

Team MedeAnalytics presented Blue Wing, an app to assess A&E facilities, waiting times, busyness, and transport options in order to make an informed decision.

Team Microsoft presented an avatar companion or ‘spiritual pet’, aimed at young people with a mental illness requiring friendship and companionship.

Team Samsung presented Zest, an app for those with chronic conditions such as diabetes and asthma to encourage self-care, through providing motivation to exercise and even joining virtual gym classes, monitoring health statistics on a dashboard.

After much debate, the judges chose MyHome as the overall winner. A smart hub featuring sensors placed strategically around the home, MyHome would allow a GP to assess if a patient may be in trouble via monitoring of home activities. Interacting via voice, MyHome would be quick to use and accessible to patients with dementia or low technical literacy.

The team presented MyHome via a roleplay:

GP: “MyHome, should I visit Mrs Jones today?”

MyHome: “ Sensors show that Mrs Jones seems fine, however Mr Smith has not yet accessed his food cupboard today. I’d suggest checking in with him.”

The judges agreed on MyHome as the collaborathon winner because the team combined a series of technologies in order to design a service wrapped around the need of the end-user, with the idea having the potential to transform the workload of a GP.

Tech for social good

What did I get from taking part in an OHT collaborathon?

I got to meet lots of new people, with unrivalled opportunities to network and connect.

We got to contribute innovative ideas for the use of new technology, and create value through building on those to apply them to real life problems.

And hopefully, you never know, in the future one of those ideas might just be brought to life by the forward-thinking technologists and collaborators in the room. After all, at Orange Bus we’ve recently done similar when an Alexa tech collaboration session ended up in us building the winning pitch idea for real. Now, wouldn’t that be neat..?

Oh, and let’s not forget, I also got a much-needed glass of wine at the end of a full day of conferencing. I think I might go to OHT’s next one, too…

One HealthTech’s next event is a Lunchtime Spotlight Session in London, with Nicola Blackwood, our Minister for Public Health and Innovation. Their events are usually free, but this is a fundraiser, and all proceeds go to One HealthTech’s activities.

Angela is an account manager at digital consultancy Orange Bus, and a blogger at braintumourwarrior.wordpress.com.