Hacking hard in Strasbourg to take health care into our own hands
Published 24 March 2015 by Carine Claude
From March 19-22, 600 hackers, startuppers and health professionals participated in Europe’s greatest gathering in its sector—Hacking Health Camp in Strasbourg. Its mission was to read the future of health care in prototypes and big data.
Strasbourg, special report (words and photos)
Over one long weekend, Strasbourg’s Faculty of Medicine was converted into a playground for hackers, startuppers and hospital practitioners for Hacking Health Camp, a compromise between a symposium on health care in the age of big data from March 19 to 22, and a 54-hour health hackathon for 600 participants.
With its 50 projects pitched per minute, the Strasbourg hackathon is more than imposing. “It’s a super shaker of ideas,” says Stéphane Becker, president of Alsace Digitale, organizer of the event, which also happens to be the biggest in its sector in Europe.
The first DigitalHealthCamp in March 2014 already attracted about a hundred hackers and dozens of health professionals, nurses, pharmacists, doctors, as well as patient associations (“at first we thought there would be 30 guys, three Savanes and two Oasis”). Since then, the hackathon has grown into the French avatar of the Canadian Hacking Health movement, which promotes cooperation between health professionals and technology experts.
The heavyweights of the pharmaceutical industry, beginning with Sanofi, have caught on fast. For this second edition, they are joining the game on the lookout for good ideas. “I try to make sure that all members of the health care ecosystem are represented, and I ask the teams to think about a hypothetical business model, even if the project is not for profit,” says Sébastien Letélié, organizer of the hackathon. “That’s where Sanofi and Allianz can help them find economically viable solutions.”
As he counts the teams that are ready to pitch their project in front of a full auditorium, this developer by profession explains that he first got the idea for a hackathon while live coding software to manage medical files in the emergency room, responding to the immediate needs of doctors out in the field.
Health care’s big data—miracle cure ?
According to Letélié, the latest trend is therapeutic education and serious games. In the background, the event hosts discussions on the future of health care as predictive, participatory and personalized by exploiting health care’s big data, the real boon of the sector—because the “quantified self” and development of wearable technologies further stimulate the already massive production of health care data on the Internet. “So much information that could improve our understanding of diseases, the development of medicine or the treatment of patients,” adds one of the participants. Nevertheless, opening and exploiting this data means confronting issues of medical ethics and privacy, as it’s always a challenge to guarantee the anonymity of data, in order to avoid commercial misappropriation and abuse of this very personal information.
So it’s no surprise that lawyers are ubiquitous, especially among the mentors of the hackathon. “The legal aspect is strategic, because when you begin a health care project, even if you have lots of ideas, if you go outside the lines from a legal standpoint, you have to start all over again from zero,” Letélié explains. He insists on varied profiles for the coaches, which include quite a few designers, “to think about how to apply the prototypes from the very beginning”. At this year’s hackathon, 11 projects received special recognition, including Physio&Connect, a smartphone app that records and analyzes the patient’s moves in order to optimize his or her rehabilitation, iPipi, which helps you keep a urinary diary, and Senometry, which uses big data to fight breast cancer, voted best innovation in health care.
Capteurs et analyse pour la rééducation, aider les kinés&patients, défi relevé en live projet Physio&Connect #hhcamp pic.twitter.com/NhhhJvyO3x— Jérémie Allard (@JeremieAllard) March 22, 2015
From citizen-patient to hacker-patient
Letélié’s primary goal is to desegregate practices and fight dehumanized health care. “The patient is every one of us. During the hackathon, 80 % of the projects presented focused on the patient.” Aware of the fact that it will take some time before attitudes change, he points out that the voices of hacker-patients are beginning to be heard, especially when it comes to diabetics. “Before, the doctor decided everything. Now the relationship with the patient is becoming more and more collaborative, as patients can offer their own solutions,” says Jorge Juan Fernández Garcia, director of E-Health and Health 2.0 at Sant Joan de Déu Hospital in Barcelona, the biggest children’s hospital in Spain. For his first time participating in Hacking Health Camp, he gave a lecture on the influence of new technologies in the relationship between practitioner and patient.
In his view, it’s a general phenomenon: “No country is satisfied with its health care system.” In France, the opening of public health care data is currently the subject of heated debate. Several organizations, including the National Medical Association Board, have requested that minister Marisol Touraine revise the open data clause of the Health Care bill, calling her attention to a national system that would “concentrate at a level unprecedented in France, and even worldwide, health and social data about our fellow citizens, including data collected by private entities”. Furthermore, some of this data has been collected “without people’s consent”. Requesting the simple withdrawal of the bill, doctors have called for another dead health care day on March 31. The bumpy road to health care democracy is ever chaotic.
See the various projects pitched at Hacking Health Camp