When Anne-Marie Cunningham posted on the Cardiff Start facebook group that the next NHS Hack Day will be hosted in Cardiff, I messaged quickly asking if I could be a judge. This isn't the first time I'd heard about the hackathon - it's the 24th such event to take place - but it was the first to take place since the pandemic and I wanted to be involved.
Spread over a weekend, participants bring with them different opportunities to fix or improve parts of health and social care. People then pitch those ideas to the group to find others who want to work together on the opportunity.
"Groups form quite organically," says the NHS Hack Day website, "You may choose to join a particular group because you were inspired by the pitch or because you have skills you think might be useful."
The groups then work on the idea for the next day or so. The idea is to create something working, even if it's a super basic version of what you're trying to achieve. Ultimately you will demo your solution to the rest of the group and a series of judges and we'll all decide on a "winner". Though, it's really not a competition. Everyone trying to improve health and social care is a winner...
Who can join?
Anyone. Of course, the name certainly appeals to to those who work for the NHS - I noticed quite a few GPs - but it's not limited to just NHS workers.
There were also a lot of people who work for NHS digital service teams, some contractors that serve the NHS, and some totally independent people who care about seeing change in one of our great institutions.
The organisers say, if you're thinking about it, come along to the next event near you and just see.
Turning up at the final hurdle, as I did, I had no clue what to expect from what is essentially a 36 hour hackathon in a space I don't normally work in. Considering contestants had to pitch an idea, form a team, work on the opportunity and produce a working model, I don't know what I was expecting...
First up was A&E ABM. An A&E patient flow modelling demo that aimed to demonstrate to NHS administrators and department leads how simple it is to model patient capacity and waiting times. Obviously modelling happens in the NHS already, but this was a tool accessible to those on the coal face.
After that we had a few patient data ideas, like Bridge, Stive and CrossMatch. These aimed to show that with the right data, you could improve information to family members about loved ones in hospital; STI notifications; and finding relative clinical research patients respectively. I wasn't there to judge on plausibility, but my tech founder head couldn't help feel routes to implementation for data heavy applications are just too massive to overcome.
We then heard from two quite unique ideas. eResus, a simple HTML based interface to access centralised NICE guidelines in a format accessible to those working on wards and clinical rooms. And one of my personal favourites, Tune Tapestry, an algorithm that takes your date of birth and creates a genre specific playlist of music from when you were 11, 17 and 24 years of age to spark memories in dementia patients.
OpenAI and ChatGPT
It wouldn't be 2023 however without an honourable mention to ChatGPT. I'm not sure I've attended a meeting this year which didn't mention it.
Two teams took on the ChatGPT challenge. Medical Jargon Buster took doctor written letters and parsed it through ChatGPT to simplify the language for patients to understand. I liked the simplicity of this tool and also, considering my background in tech localization, could see opportunities to use AI to translate letters for patients whose first language isn't English.
PlanGPT did not create a product however and took the opportunity to get some great minds thinking about the implications of an AI future on the NHS. This may sound like a cop out, but the team thought up many potential issues around patient data and NHS guidelines and also wanted to spread the message to those who may not be following ChatGPT developments. Readers of this blog are unlikely to be unaware of the opportunities and threats AI provides.
I walked over to the Cardiff University building hosting the NHS Hack Day with absolutely no expectations. I left enthused that people are actually thinking about ways in which health and social care can be improved.
The ideas worked on over 36 hours may not ever be taken further, but I'm sure the people involved will leave with a renewed sense that anything is possible when you put the right minds on the issue. I can only imagine that sometimes the NHS seems so vast and so cash strapped that constructive change is slow, but walking away from that building I felt confident that people with ideas still exist and want to contribute.
It's been a long time since I was involved in a hackathon, but I was reminded how great they can be to motivate people to work on challenging issues. People coming together from different backgrounds and locations to work on a common opportunity. Perhaps we should aim to see more of these in more sectors in Wales?
Want to get involved?
The next NHS Hack Day hasn't been announced at the time of writing, so keep an eye on the website here. It's open to all, whether you work for the NHS or not. The organisers go as far to say even if you think you don't belong, come anyway.
And to be honest, that's what I did this weekend. I turned up not knowing what to expect and left feeling relieved there are people in this world trying to solve health and social care issues with my favourite thing: tech.