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NHS Hack Day Cambridge 2013

November saw over a hundred “geeks who love the NHS” – developers, doctors, nurses, patients and more – descend on The University Centre in Cambridge for the fifth NHS Hack Day.

NHS Hack Days are the brain child of Open Health Care UK and are weekend-long events where interested parties come together to apply some novel thinking to improving the ways we work in healthcare in the UK, and of course, to have fun! The assembled “geeks” begin first thing on the Saturday morning by pitching any initial ideas they might have about making the state of healthcare technology better. They then self-organise into groups and use their time together to try to push their ideas further towards reality before re-presenting their newly evolved projects on the Sunday afternoon. This highly collaborative process has had a diverse range of outputs: so far they’ve spawned several ongoing projects, including OpenBNF.org, a more accessible and useful version of the BNF (a book doctors use to look up the dose of medicine they prescribe), and oPortfolio, aiming to build a free open-source online portfolio for junior doctors.

Data-driven projects are often popular at NHS Hack Days, for example analytics work on existing datasets such as those provided by the NHS Choices API. PracticeMinder, a tool building upon OpenPrescribing, sought to provide data visualisation on patient demographics and prescription data from large data sets about UK GP practices. The information can be harnessed by the NHS and research groups for analysing the operations of GP centres around the country. Gathering data was also the focus of the FYi and the myPatients teams, both of whom aimed to simplify and optimise workflow in hospital. FYi aimed to help doctors on shift by providing an educational database of answers to medical queries to fellow colleagues, and myPatients worked on increasing the efficiency of administering patient lists by creating a web app channelling patient referrals to different doctors across different wards.

Another exciting project involving data analysis came from the Cellcountr team. This group originally formed at a previous NHS Hack Day where they built a tool for helping haematologists record the number of different types of cells they observed and worked on a searchable database of images for educational and diagnostic purposes. Over the weekend the team took this further by producing CellClustr, a tool which classifies cell types from slide images through clustering and filtering algorithms. CellClustr does what is an otherwise time consuming and difficult manual job, offering exciting prospects for realising efficiencies in busy and resource-constrained hospital labs.

The problem of inefficient patient-doctor communication was also flagged up by many teams during the weekend. Projects which were conceived to ease this process included Online Pre-op Assessment, which is an electronic system which saves time and administration for both patient and doctor by saving the need for an appointment should the patient not have any pre-surgical issues that need further investigation. Other projects with similar goals were MedicPic, which is a mobile and browser app which uses visual aids to facilitate conversations between doctors and patients, iPatch which allows both doctors and patients to log the progress of vision correction by eye-patch, and Task Hero which helps children with ADD to self manage and develop independence.

Many of the weekend’s projects had the aim of making the medical lives of patients easier and less intimidating. The HealthBridge project produced a prototype integrating sophisticated data management with the simplicity of a low-tech easy patient-patient and doctor-patient communication medium, with promising applications in improving patient management. MyHeart and “Up and About” both focus on making a patient’s life easier from home, with MyHeart allowing you to track your cardiovascular risk and “Up and About” remotely keeping track of the activity of elderly relatives to make sure that they’re “Up and About” on a day to day basis.

Improving the provision of information in under-served areas was NHS Rainbow, which aims to be a better database of LGBTQ*-friendly health services that you can navigate from home. The project has now become crowdhealth.io and is continuing to develop post-Hack Day.

Seeing the generosity of so many people who were willing to give up their weekends to make something like this happen was incredible, and running it was an amazing experience. Many thanks to all our attendees, to our judges, to those who helped with running the event, and to our sponsors: Elasticsearch, LondonLime, O’Reilly, LaterPay, GoCardless, Retrosnub and Tinamous.

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