Newswise — From virtual reality to crowdsourcing ideas, participants at UC Health Hack 2017 combined creativity and problem-solving to create projects addressing critical issues in health systems and global health. The 181 participants focused on one of two tracks: health care delivery or refugee health.

UC Health Hack 2017, the third annual interdisciplinary health-focused two-day hackathon at UC San Diego, was a collaboration between UC San Diego Engineering World Health, UC San Diego Health, UC Irvine Health, and Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego. The competition featured more than 35 proposals, with support from 57 mentors and judges from interdisciplinary fields, and awarded $12,000 in prize money.

Christopher Longhurst, MD, Chief Information Officer at UC San Diego Health and clinical professor of medicine and pediatrics at UC San Diego School of Medicine, explained the importance of brainstorming improvements for the health care delivery system.

“With the opening of Jacobs Medical Center at UC San Diego Health, improving the inpatient experience is an area of focus,” Longhurst said. “Another area is healthy aging — including transitions of care from pediatrics to adulthood as well as geriatric care. We’ve rolled out a lot of technology in patient care, and we thought a hackathon could build new innovations on these platforms.”

Reality Art Therapy won the health care delivery track, with an app for hospital inpatients. Sid Ambulkar, junior bioinformatics major, was part of this winning team.

“In short, we designed ‘Pokemon Go’ for hospital inpatients. However, instead of catching Pokemon, patients are encouraged to hunt art pieces around the hospital,” Ambulkar said. “The idea was to encourage patients to get out of their beds and incentivize social interactions with other patients in the hospital. Several studies have shown that by increasing physical activity and decreasing social isolation, patients tend to recover faster and return to the hospital less frequently.”

Drawing inspiration from the new Jacobs Medical Center, the project leverages the fact that each patient is given an Apple iPad to use during their stay. An iPad can be used for in-room comfort, such as adjusting lights and temperature, for access to a patient’s medical record, and for streaming movies to their television. The hospital also has a 150-piece therapeutic art collection, with an art piece in each patient’s room and the remaining pieces scattered throughout the hallways and lobbies. Given this, the project involved expressive arts therapy, which encourages patients to engage with art. It has been shown to improve mental wellness.

Bioengineering sophomores Niranjanaa Jeeva and Ella Stimson, representatives from UC San Diego Engineering World Health, were the co-directors of the event for the global health track. Jeeva explained the reason for a track focused solely on refugee health.

“Refugee health is a critical need,” Jeeva said. “It’s a group of people who have been pushed out of their homes and spend years trying to get to a place to safety. When you’re trying to survive, finding food and shelter becomes such a huge concern that health care needs become under-addressed and neglected, especially for the people running camps and trying to find space. Our team wanted to get the participants focused and try to address these issues.”

Beverly Yu, a junior studying bioengineering, was a member of the winning global health track team, Blueprints for Life. This is a web-based platform that connects refugee communities to engineering teams.

“Refugee workers can submit needs online, allowing engineers to easily identify the target of their next project,” Yu explained. “Engineers can then, through constant communication with the refugee workers, develop a blueprint that empowers refugee communities to use local resources and labor, resulting in a solution that is not only implementable, but also sustainable. By increasing the efficiency of project development and likelihood of implementation, Blueprints for Life aims to be the ‘one-stop shop’ for both engineers in search of projects, and refugee communities in need of solutions.”

The team is currently focused on further development of the solution by exploring opportunities for additional funding and support and will eventually move into actual implementation. Given more time, the team would like to directly interview people who would be the end-users of these products, refugee workers, in order to further understand the specifics needs.

Although this was the third annual health-focused hackathon at UC San Diego, it was the first to include health system sponsorship and focus. Longhurst has been wanting to support an event like this for years.

“One of the potential benefits is building things that we can actually implement in the health system,” Longhurst said. “More importantly is building awareness that the health system faces problems which require a partnership between the people who understand health care processes and the people who understand how to engineer technology solutions. To me, that’s one of the most important outcomes.”