“Innovation is a team sport”: CHEO and Hacking Health announce partnership to innovate healthcare

James Chan, Dr. Randy Giffen, Haidee Thanda, Dr. Ciarán Duffy, Ana-Rita Silva, Dr. Matthew Bromwich and Zuhaib Mir

“Innovation happens at those moments when philosophy, ideas and tools blend together to create new ideas,” said Dr. Matthew Bromwich, quoting Freeman Dyson, in his March 2nd Grand Rounds presentation to more than 60+ doctors and medical students at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO).

The philosophy, ideas and tools are blending together in Ottawa. This Grand Rounds event launched an ambitious initiative to use technological innovation to improve healthcare. The initiative is a partnership between CHEO and Hacking Health, working with Impact Hub Ottawa and volunteers from IBM.

Hacking Health is a global non-profit organization which improves healthcare by bringing together technology creators, medical professionals and entrepreneurs, among others to collaborate on and develop novel digital solutions to concrete front-line problems.

Zuhaib Mir of Hacking Health Ottawa put it this way. “We’re going to give you a sandbox to play in.”

Over the next months, healthcare professionals, engineers, developers, entrepreneurs, and others will discuss health challenges at a series of collaborative events throughout the city. The events will culminate in a weekend design challenge held this fall, where prototypes to solve problems will be built over 42–72 hours.

Viable solutions will have the opportunity to be taken to the next level by presenting to CHEO and other stakeholders towards the end of the year.

Hacking Health has had exciting successes in other cities. In Montreal, they brought people together to develop Évaluation du Langage Mobile, an iPhone app better known as ELMo led by Kathy Malas. ELMo records children’s speech at home, rather than in a clinical setting. This simple app has dropped speech language assessment times from over an hour to 20 minutes.

As in Montreal, this Ottawa initiative will turn ideas into innovative health practices or technologies like apps. The trick is in getting a diverse group of healthcare professionals and innovators in the same room, working together.

“It takes perseverance and collaboration. Innovation is a team sport,” said Dr. Bromwich.

Dr. Randy Giffen, one of IBM volunteers working on the project, emphasized how important it is that people other than “tech geeks” be involved. “If you’re interested in helping people, improving their care, we want you. We want people to contribute their ideas.”

The initiative builds on CHEO’s existing successes in applying technological solutions to health problems, such as its MindMasters II app, and will tap into the wealth of creative and technical expertise in Ottawa.

Attendees of the Grand Rounds presentation were enthusiastic about the initiative’s launch.

They asked insightful questions, too. As one example, Dr. Alex Mackenzie, who is working on developing a strategic toolbox and preclinical research pathway for inherited disorders and orphan diseases, asked what the initiative will do when presented with bad ideas.

“Bad ideas are not the problem,” replied Dr. Bromwich. “The method is to discover quickly if something can’t work and move on. We can’t be afraid of failing.”

Mir agreed. “Fail fast and fail cheap. Each time you fail, you fail better. You address the deficiencies your first idea may have had until you have something that can be tested and implemented.”

With this can-do attitude, the coming events are sure to generate creative solutions to tough health problems. Backed by CHEO’s medical expertise, Hacking Health’s experience in finding solutions to health problems, volunteers from IBM, and the Hub’s connections to social entrepreneurs and the wider Ottawa community, such as companies like Clearwater Clinical, participants will be well-equipped to do great things. And many more are invited to join.

If you have an interest in healthcare, technology, or innovation, you won’t want to miss a moment. To receive updates for this exciting new initiative, click here! We’ll be using #HealthTech + @HHOttawa to share content on social media as well.

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