Hackathon: Something completely different at Optometry’s Meeting®

Hackathon: Something completely different at Optometry’s Meeting®

You've never seen anything quite like a hackathon at Optometry's Meeting®.

It consists of teams passionately "hacking" apart an issue, searching for a digital solution to a real-world problem or challenge. There's a running clock, a competitive atmosphere and participants thriving under pressure.  

The goal is to design a tool to educate patients and parents about the importance of vision in the learning process...

A hackathon can last hours—typically days—but at the end, teams must deliver and present a technological solution that works. That engaging, energizing and cutting-edge experience—called Hackathon lll-Future of Interprofessional Patient Education—is coming to Optometry's Meeting® in Washington, D.C., from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, June 24.  

"We'll be working toward creating a synergy between school nurses (members of the National Association of School Nurses) and the AOA's doctors of optometry," says Thomas Wong, O.D., director of new technologies at State University of New York (SUNY) College of Optometry and facilitator of the interprofessional hackathon.  

Dr. Wong has participated in many hackathons, including a series in May and one in November 2016 on the SUNY campus. Those hackathons focused respectively on the "Future Eye Exam" and "The Future of Optometric Education." In each evidence-based exploration, participants were asked to design mobile apps as solutions.  

"They can be intense, but we always have fun," Dr. Wong adds.  

The roots of hackathons (sometimes called hackothons) can be traced to 1975 with a group called the Homebrew Computer Club, which had its first meeting in a Silicon Valley garage. The club's members consisted of so-called "hobbyists." Yet, some members would become future founders of microcomputer companies such as Apple.  

Today, hackathons are no longer just for computer programmers, engineers and techies, Dr. Wong says. They are commonplace in Silicon Valley—Facebook, for instance, considers them "a big tradition" in its office culture—but are found in other innovation spaces in business and government. On many university campuses, student hackers now form and compete in leagues such as Major League Hacking, which is made up of international teams.  

In a Q&A session, Dr. Wong shared what hackathons can contribute to optometry.  

What is a hackathon?

Hackathons are digital-age events where participants collaborate and utilize innovative technology to develop a solution or solve a problem. We hope our interprofessional hackathon will be a transformative experience and will help to create a community of people interested in new technologies that improve patient outcomes.  

What's the goal of the interprofessional hackathon?
The goal is to design a tool to educate patients and parents about the importance of vision in the learning process, while fostering a community and culture of innovation. This collaboration is a logical step, given the AOA's and optometry's rich history of vision research and patient care—and the lifetime of work the National Association of School Nurses has spent taking care of our nation's children. It is important that we utilize both self-assessment and evidenced-based studies to guide our decisions. Sharing best practices often leads to new solutions, and sometimes can lead to something both disruptive and innovative. At the hackathon, we want to create new tools to improve outcomes for children.

How will it work?   

We will gather in one space, with between 75 and 100 people participating. That group will include experts in the field: doctors of optometry, members of the National Association of School Nurses, researchers, optometric faculty and deans. We may have a few industry experts and medical doctors. To kick things off, there will be a brief 30-minute presentation explaining the rules and processes. There will be a working lunch served, and some desserts from Georgetown Cupcakes. Everyone will be divided into groups that will each create a six-minute PowerPoint presentation. The presentations will be judged by a group of experts and prizes will be awarded. The hackathon will utilize the vast experience and knowledge of doctors of optometry, nurses and other professionals to create an interactive ecosystem that promotes improved patient outcomes.  

How important is collaboration in the process?  

Hackathons are one step in creating a culture and a community of innovation—only a starting point. Building a community of people who are interested in making processes better is a key factor in the effective implementation of newly designed tools. We would like to foster a community of professionals interested in innovation and new technologies in eye care.  

What will happen with the solutions (ideas) after the hackathon?   

They will be incubated in the SUNY New Technologies Unit. I will work with the growing optometry hackathon community in collaboration with the school nurses. If someone wants to know more, I invite them to come to the interprofessional hackathon at Optometry's Meeting to find out. If they're interested in participating in the event, they can contact me at tawong@sunyopt.edu. I will send them an electronic invitation in late May. The first 75 to respond will be able to participate.

April 24, 2017

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