Health Hack aims to solve health care issues

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Youssef Galal from DroneCast flies a drone during the Health Hack event at Jefferson University on Nov. 14, 2015.

What the heck is a Health Hack?

Instead of the traditional hackathon with computer geeks, pizza and Red Bull, think medical professionals, engineers, artists, tech types and an insurance company, banding together to come up with creative solutions to improve delivery of health care, then toss in some yoga, zumba and kickboxing and add a vegetarian lunch.

That was the scene at Jefferson University Hospital this weekend as about 250 participants in the first Independence/Jefferson Health Hack came together to brainstorm solutions to 60 health care challenges centered around reducing hospital admissions, wearables devices and drone-based health care delivery.

"The goal is to generate new ideas about how we address the challenges we are facing in health care," said Dr. I. Steven Udvarhelyi, vice president of health services for Independence Blue Cross.

Those challenges included crafting a collapsible - and fashionable - bike helmet that can deploy an airbag in an accident, using a drone that can be double as a WiFi hotspot in a disaster to help communicate with victims through their cell phones, or inventing a "wearable" device that will signal when a child is about to have an asthma attack.

For Jessica Joy London, 32, a freelance artist from Pennsport, creating a wearable for people with asthma was something she hopes to make a reality.

Originally from Guyana, London and her family moved to Florida when she was a child so she could have better access to health care for her asthma.

"I was hospitalized 50 times in my first 10 years," she said. Her vision to create a device for kids ages 2- to 18-years-old that would signal when they were on the verge of an asthma attack by monitoring lung function.

London envisions something that doesn't look like a medical instrument.

"I'm an artist so that is where I come in," she said. It could be a glowing Batman pin for a young boy, or a nice piece of jewelry for a teen, she said.

The technical component of the device would be an App that would track when and were the attacks happen and give patients and doctors a greater understanding of how to control the attacks, she said.

"We don't design health care delivery from a patient's perspective," said Bon Ku, an Assistant Professor at Jefferson Medical School who along with Donna Gentile O'Donnell, vice president of Innovation Programs and Partnerships brought the idea of a Health Hack in Philadelphia to a reality.

Ku, an emergency room physician, is the director of a design program within the medical school that teaches students to use creative thinking to solve healthcare problems.

"We want patients to be creating their own solutions to health care," said Ku. He advocates including patients into the process of coming up with solutions to health care issues. "They know the disease process better than doctors."

At the NextFab laboratories on 2025 Washington Ave., participants had access to digital equipment and traditional manufacturing tools to complete prototypes of their designs.

"This isn't your mom's medical school," said Stephen Klasko, president and CEO of Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson Health as he surveyed a room of hackers on computers or sketching designs out on paper. He hoped the collaboration would put Philadelphia in a different light and at the center of transformations in health care.

At one table, Chris Price and Cody Meshberger, both 25, from Charlotte, N.C., were busy crafting a parachute for a drone they hoped would be used in natural disaster rescue efforts to locate victims and be able to drop small items such as medications.

The pair also designed an App to help locate survivors through their cellphone signals.

"We made it last night," said Price,. "We stayed up all night."

The two travel to hackathons on weekends as a hobby and to meet interesting people. This was their first medical hackathon and they were intrigued by the prizes which included cash, lunch with company CEOs and vice presidents, access to some pretty cool software through Microsoft's BizSpark, memberships to the high-tech workspace NextFab, and a drone.

The event continues on Sunday.

mschaefer@phillynews.com

610-313-8111

@MariSchaefer

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