This weekend I took part in The Pitt Challenge Hackathon hosted by the School of Pharmacy and the Clinical and Translational Science Institute. I found this hackathon interesting because it had specific goals and challenged the participants to “Change the way the world looks at Health.” I went to the event with absolutely no prior ideas about what to build. I enjoy participating in hackathons for a chance to work with a completely new group of team members every time. I joined a team of two software professionals Zee and Greg right after registration. We were then joined by a business major – Shoueb during the official team formation stage of the event. The hackathon organizers provided us with ample opportunities to have discussions with researchers, professors and practitioners about the problems they’d like to solve with technology.
We started with a lot of interesting ideas and everyone in the team had a lot to contribute. We realized that almost all of our ideas revolved around the concept of increasing the interaction between the patient and providers outside of the health care setting. Currently, the patients have little interaction with the health care providers apart from the short face-to-face meetings and sporadic phone calls. Providers are interested in knowing more about their patients during their normal activities. Patients would also feel better cared for when the providers are more vested in them. We began with a grand scheme of creating a three-way communication channel with patient, physicians and pharmacists. After having more discussions with the mentors, we soon understood our big challenges – ‘busy schedules’ and ‘incumbent systems.’ We decided to focus on patient-pharmacy interactions. We brainstormed ideas about how we can build a system that ties well with the existing systems and isn’t too demanding in terms of time, either from the pharmacists or the patients. We decided to call ourselves – “Pharma-C” and after appropriate amount of giggling over the name, we sat down to think about the tech.
We wanted to design a system that could be less intrusive than phone calls, where both participants must be available at the same time, but also more visible than emails that could be left ignored in the promotions inbox. We began with an idea of using an email based system that could also appear as Google Now Cards as notifications on phones and smart devices. To our disappointment, we learned that Google Now only supports schemas for a limited number of activities (such as restaurant reservations, flights etc.). As a result, we moved on to a custom notification service. We agreed upon using the Pushover app which made it very easy to build a prototype for the hackathon.
We built a web-based system that could be connected to the existing loyalty programs from the pharmacies. The patients could opt for signing up for additional follow-up questions about their prescriptions. These questions could be generic ones such as: How many prescribed doses have you missed this week?, Is your prescribed medicine affordable?, Do you have questions about your current prescription?; or specific follow-up questions about the drugs they are taking. One could be interested in knowing how the patients are doing, whether the drug is having the desired effects or even reminding them about the common side-effects. Once signed up, a weekly script could send notifications to the participants and collect their responses from their preferred devices. Having such a system in place would help the pharmacists gather better information about the patients and offer interventions. They could look at the summary information screen when they make their follow-up calls according the existing systems in place. We believe the such a system could benefit both the pharmacies and the users without disrupting their regular workflows.
During the course of 24 hours, we finished building a working prototype and could demo everything in real-time to all our judges. One addition that improve the challenge would be to release some datasets for the participants to work with. We wanted to try some interesting data analysis methods for our problems but were limited to work on data collection hacks. Overall, I enjoyed taking part in the Pitt Challenge Hackathon and will look forward to their future events.