In health care, we never know where the next great idea might come from. It might not even be from someone working in health care. It was in that spirit where #WTFix, a social movement created by HealthSparq, was born. We’ve shared #WTFix before here on HealthChangers. HealthSparq holds #WTFix events where regular people with amazing stories teach the health care industry and offer solutions to pain points in their personal experiences. The #WTFix-A-THON stemmed from that approach to gather solutions through a hackathon. The event took place at TechfestNW 2019 and was sponsored by Cambia company, HealthSparq, which is focused on helping people make smarter health care decisions.
In this episode of HealthChangers, we go live to the hackathon and talk to a group of students from coding schools in Portland, Oregon, who brought their personal stories and tech experience to design apps aimed at solving health care problems. There were four #WTFix-A-THON teams. Each had 36 hours to investigate a health care problem and design a solution. With the help of judges, they refined their ideas and then presented them at TechFestNW’s Pitchfest.
Coding Student Pitching Idea: It filters such, I will show you, every single hospital in Oregon that will actually offer…
Cristabel Nichols (CN): This team created a platform that mapped out local hospitals and health centers and showed users what medical procedures were performed at each facility. Users could decide where it was most convenient for them, but also which hospital was least expensive.
Coding Student Pitching Idea: Imagine the colonoscopy and you just so happen to go to the hospital that you always go for every single service, and it's just so happened to be this one that costs you over $22,000 and come to find later on you could have paid less than $5,000. What a nightmare, right?
CN: Another team designed an app to remove barriers to getting to your doctor's appointment. It was aimed particularly at people with disabilities and people who don't speak English. After all the teams presented their ideas, it was time to name a winner.
Hackathon Judge: First of all, I want to thank all you guys for doing this, and for doing such great work, super impressive. Very difficult. You know, the things that really stuck out for us was how creatively you guys looked at this from the perspective of the health care consumer. And maybe you’re too young to realize how messed up our health care system is, but it is very messed up. I think what we heard today from you was awareness of some of the reasons why it is so messed up. Data that is in silos, data that is not easily accessible. But despite that, you guys came up with some great ideas. It's impressive how far you got in a limited amount of time. I know these things are hard. So, without further ado, our overall winner was the Geo Locator and Matrix Appointment Tracker.
Hackathon Winning Team Shares What Inspired Design of Mobile App
CN: I had the opportunity to speak with several members of the winning team about why they signed up for #WTFix-A-THON, and what inspired them.
Paige Gorry (PG): My name is Paige Gorry and I graduated from Alchemy Code Lab. I'm a full stack developer.
CN: Paige, tell me a little bit about your story and why you personally connected to the pitched idea.
PG: Our idea was to bring a full encompassing app to get users from point A to point B. A lot of the times people don't make it to their doctor's appointments -- which, can be really hard for folks, but it's not their fault, right? I connect with the idea as I used to work for a human services organization. I worked with people with disabilities and mental illness and it was a huge barrier for a lot of folks, especially if they were independent and living on their own. They would still have trouble remembering what appointments they had and using public transportation to get from point A to point B. We tried to handle all those features in one app.
CN: Why do you think that was an important issue for you? Was there something you had observed in other people's lives or something you connected to personally that motivated you or inspired you?
PG: Yeah, so specifically there was an individual, Matt -- he had developmental disabilities and he was super independent. He goes to work, he takes the bus on his own. He still lives in a group home environment, so he has some support at home, but he really likes being out in the community. But I know that doctor's appointments were really hard for him to get to and especially remembering all of them. But they were trying to build those skills so that he could really live on his own. I was really excited to be able to sort of use Matt as a user story for how we could make his life a little bit easier and a little bit more accessible, especially navigating health care.
CN: Thank you so much.
Carmen Perezchica (CP): My name is Carmen Perezchica and I just graduated from Alchemy Code lab as a Full Stack developer.
CN: Well, congratulations on graduating and congratulations on winning. That's a lot. Did all this happen in the last week?
CP: Yes, we graduated on Wednesday and then we came on board to the hackathon on Thursday, so a bit tired, but having fun.
CN: What was that process like? I think you had someone say 36 hours altogether to create, investigate a problem, come up with a solution and pitch it. What was that like?
CP: It was fascinating because it really felt like a really tight, tight, time crunch, but I think I was on a great team and we were able to pull through. They had to kick us out last night and then even though they kicked us out, we were still up at night coding and our team members were communication over Slack -- so it was fun.
CN: Now that you've had this experience with #WTFix-A-THON, what does health care transformation mean to you?
CP: I'm a caregiver for my mom, who primarily speaks Spanish. She has a lot of chronic conditions and over this past year we've been in and out of the hospital many, many times. Creating an experience that would allow her and really empower her to be able to take control over her health and not feel like she always has to go through me – I think it's incredible. That's where my passion comes in terms of transforming health care.
Creating an experience that would allow her and really empower her to be able to take control over her health and not feel like she always has to go through me – I think it's incredible. That's where my passion comes in terms of transforming health care.
― Carmen Perezchica, #WTFix-A-THON Winning Team Member
CN: Your idea had a lot to do with accessibility, and like you mentioned, empowering people. Why do you think that idea isn't explored more in health care?
CP: You know, that's a difficult question to answer. I think there's a lot of barriers that we don't think about. I do see companies are inclining more and more to be able to offer their services in a lot of different languages or just being cognizant about different kinds of users in general. I am excited to see how businesses begin leaning towards that.
CN: Now that you've had this experience, what do you think your career goals are? Do you think it's going to be in health care? What do you think?
CP: I actually was in health care for 10 years. I definitely have a passion. I think it comes across because of my personal story. I look forward to seeing where my path takes me and hopefully it will be in health care. I will see what my path is in the future.
Compassion in Coding Helps Make Health Care Better
CN: What advice would you give to other students in your position? Recent grads, they might have a passion like you and health care.
CP: Follow your passion. Because every morning you wake up, you want to do something that excites you, that would be my advice. Thank you so much.
Teonna Zaragoza: My name is Teonna Zaragoza and I recently graduated from Alchemy Code Lab and I am a full stack developer.
CN: So how did you hear about #WTFix-A-THON?
TZ: Word of mouth from our career’s director. We went straight from graduation on Wednesday to here on Thursday for the hackathon.
CN: This is Techfest's first ever human-centered design health hackathon. I want to know – everyone has a health care journey and this hackathon is about solving health care problems while creating solutions. What is your story? What connected you to pitching something that could transform health care?
TZ: I have a background in nursing and previously was a home health care nurse. I worked with people who had to use the health care system just like myself, but they were at a disadvantage because they're older or had disabilities. Working to make sure they would be able to access their health care is really important to me.
Advice for Future Programmers
TZ: There are so many options and so many ways that you can go. Pick one and explore it completely. I'm excited about doing that myself. Going down the health care route and discovering all the things I can, all the human centered problems I can solve with programming.
CN: There's going to be a lot of students listening to this podcast who are in your position, recent grads, they have dreams and have passions. Maybe they feel overwhelmed with where to start or how to explore them. Do you have any advice?
Working on an application that has real world effects is really cool, that I can help potentially make that transformation a reality.
― Teonna Zaragoza, #WTFix-A-THON Winning Team Member
TZ: Breathe. It will be okay, and just hold on tight. It might not come today or tomorrow, but it will come. I would just be patient and stick with it.
CN: Can you share a little bit about your story and what connected and inspired you to join?
TZ: My background really inspired me to be here. When thinking about the specific problem we were addressing, I had a patient named Erica. She was in between a paraplegic and quadriplegic, and she faced a lot of difficulties getting to and from appointments, scheduling them, and getting the transportation. Working on an application that has real world effects is really cool, that I can help potentially make that transformation a reality.
CN: After this experience, what do you think health care transformation means to you?
TZ: I am excited about it being accessible to all communities and people. I'm looking forward to seeing the transformation and being able to use it in the future myself.
CN: You have college degrees and work experience outside of the tech world. I was curious what led you to studying coding.
Everyone has a health care journey. You've shared some of yours today and a lot of people are influenced by things that happen in their lives and sometimes their health care journeys. But you know, as students are listening to this and deciding what to do with their lives, should they include coding and if so, how can they help transform lives? I mean it can be an overwhelming choice. Why don't you walk us through a little bit, through your decisions and what it was like for you on your journey to get to this point.
Programming as a Passion vs Programming as a Job
PG: I think the first thing that I thought about – I just graduated from college back in 2015, so my focus was finding something that I wanted to do with my career. I worked for a nonprofit and it was a great experience and it was incredible to work with people with disabilities and to meet them and see a snapshot of their lives and really impact them – however, it wasn't something that I wanted to do long-term. I think I would rather volunteer for organizations like that than work for them. I really strive to learn something new every day and that's something I found with coding.
There are so many options out there that it can be overwhelming, but I hope that people who are interested in coding really look at what they want to do. There are options to learn online, there are options to go to a school, if that's more how you learn. There are tons of options out there and it doesn't need to be paying $20,000 to go or $80,000 to go and get your bachelor's degree. There are so many affordable options for folks, don't let it scare you, go for it, do some research, meet some folks. They're really friendly and nice.
CP: For me there was a pivotal moment, I was in a meeting, it was a new position and I was hearing the architects, the software engineers, talking about a problem and how the systems were connected and something in my brain started to be very active. That excited me. I haven't felt that feeling in a while and I just kind of followed my intuition. If it excites me that much, there must be something there. I just started going online and figuring out what are some of my options. Going and getting a master's is way too expensive. Going back and getting a bachelor's again, I don't think I want to do that. That's too much debt, you know? So fortunately, I started going to events and came across Alchemy Code Lab, where I figure it's an intense bootcamp program, but it's something that you can do in a relatively short amount of time, and not at the cost that you would find for a degree. So, that was my experience.
TZ: I was driving home with a friend of mine who attended Alchemy Code Lab, and one of our previous cohort members, she didn't know about Alchemy and she was looking for a way out of her current job. So, I started asking questions of him for my friend, and I realized halfway through the conversation I had stopped asking questions for her and they were now for me. We got to the bootcamp and I realized – this is fun. I haven't had this much fun and was excited about something, in a really long time. I thought I probably should explore this just a little bit more. That's what kept me going for the last six months.
A New Approach to Health Care Innovation: Hackathon with Coding Students
CN: There was a lot of excitement at the hackathon about each team's ideas. I asked event organizer and HealthSparq digital marketing manager Anna Greene why our organization chose to create the #WTFix-A-THON.
Anna Greene (AG): HealthSparq is kind of the incubator of What’s the Fix because we really believe in people, their needs and serving end-users’ needs. Our products that we build every day are dedicated to making people's ability to navigate health care better. And What's the Fix is one of the ways that we're able to figure that out in a broader, broader way.
CN: What was it like to really execute and plan TechfestNW's first ever human-centered design health hackathon?
The most impactful aspect…is giving the group of people that participated in the hackathon a frame of reference for how messed up health care is and how they have the power to potentially make change.
― Anna Greene, HealthSparq Digital Marketing Manager
AG: Well it was a lot of work. But the great thing that we get to do at HealthSparq and through What's the Fix is to really explore this amazing passion project – which, is something that I love. Being able to do a lot of work for something so unique and innovative, really capturing the energy and excitement of this group of young people, who maybe have not had as many experiences in health care as some of us who are used to working in it – to feed on that energy is super exciting.
I think being able to put this event together through TechfestNW and attract this really awesome audience of young people through their schools, and throughout Portland universities and local code schools – we worked with Thinkful, Alchemy Code Lab, Epicodus, and Portland State University. Having those schools represented here and having it be hyper local in our own backyard for HealthSparq was a really unique opportunity.
It was definitely a lot of work, but so much fun to meet all of these amazing people and hopefully connect them to even more people and get them inspired and excited to work in industries that make change, like health care hopefully.
CN: What do you think was the most impactful and lasting aspect of the hackathon and why?
AG: The most impactful aspect of the hackathon is giving the group of people that participated in the hackathon a frame of reference for how messed up health care is and the power that they have to potentially make change.
CN: The need for change was a common theme among the participants at the #WTFix-A-THON and so was the feeling that there are remedies to what ails health care. Jill Dornan was one of the judges and heads up product marketing and program management for HealthSparq. She was impressed at how the students thought through all the hurdles a consumer might go through to access health care.
Jill Dornan (JD): It was certainly exciting to hear all the ideas and see the applications that the students were able to hack in such a short period of time. They came up with some great ideas and they pulled it together so quickly, but the thought process that they put into these projects, it was great. They were thinking in terms of what the market challenge was, dealing with the technology issues, and really trying to communicate the value to an individual that's trying to navigate health care.
CN: You heard a lot of inspiring stories. Was there anything – a pitch, a story that you really connected to?
JD: I connected with all of them in some way or another. I think all of us are personally impacted by health and health care. It impacts everybody's lives, and we all have our own health care stories too. A couple of them were more oriented to price transparency, which is a major issue that we are trying to help improve from a HealthSparq perspective. So certainly, that was a really big deal.
But there were a couple other great ideas that the teams came up with around informing people about outbreaks and helping people get to the actual health care appointments that they make. It touched on several different aspects of health care.
CN: Yeah, it sounds like accessibility was a big theme. How do you think that's going to help transform health care?
JD: We already know that a lot of people select-out of health care because either it's confusing, it's expensive, or it's just difficult to do things. Even just to simply schedule an appointment with a doctor, you have to play phone tag and do all kinds of things. Sometimes people have difficulty getting out of the house and getting to the care. The fact that the students were actually looking for solutions to make it easier for folks to get to necessary care is huge, because it's more expensive when you don't get health care.
CN: The students were on pins and needles as they heard the judge’s advice and feedback. Other people are going to be listening to this podcast and looking for advice and feedback and they're not going to be able to pitch to you directly. What advice do you have for them as they think through their ideas and how to best change health care with the ideas they have?
JD: A couple things come to mind. Health care is a complex industry and it's difficult for the layperson to understand, but it's hugely important for people. So, if you have an idea, even if it's a really small idea, don't discount it. It doesn't have to be a big idea to impact people's lives because it's health care and you know you can help them be healthier people. You can make sure that they get access to care and have better lives and at the end of the day, there's nothing more impactful than that.
CN: That wraps up this episode of HealthChangers. You can find more information on all our episodes at cambiahealth.com. You can also follow us on Twitter @Cambia. Please subscribe to HealthChangers on Apple podcasts or Stitcher and leave a review. Thanks for listening.
- What’s the Fix
- HealthChangers Podcast archive
- Behind the Scenes: Human-Centered Design Health Care Hackathon
- #WTFix on Twitter