Clockwise from top left: the Community Watch concept, US CTO Todd No-Caffeine-Needed Park, Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine #2, members of our team practicing the pitch, list of 20 concepts presented at final presentation, Eric Dishman, a packed house for an early start Saturday morning.
Report – Palo Alto Medical Foundation weekend hackathon
The healthcare industry, as we know, is not famous for being innovative, even in the heart of Silicon Valley, where it seems that most people start new companies every day before breakfast. And within the broad expanse of the healthcare industry itself, few would immediately volunteer the senior-focused segment to be at the vanguard of innovation. Yet this perception is what the Palo Alto Medical Foundation is well on its way to changing; a highly motivated and capable team of 10 runs their Druker Center for Health Systems innovation, and last weekend they hosted a first-class innovation workshop to kick off their Successful Aging Challenge in partnership with Health2.0. This innovation workshop was as good as any I’ve been to in years, and since I’ve spent the last decade in the innovation space, that’s saying something.
Keynotes from the stars
Kudos goes to the PAMF team for hooking two of the biggest fish in health innovation today. PAMF CTO Paul Tang opened up with a great presentation about the space and the need for innovation (hopefully that’ll be online, guys?), and then handed over to Todd Park, and man who’s energy is so abundant, if it was harnessed it would power a small city. Todd has just been promoted to US CTO from being the CTO of the Health and Human Services Department. His ebullient, infectious energy, data-rich precision, clarity of vision and rapid-fire delivery is legendary, and as Peter Radsiff tweeted, he singlehandedly restores faith in the US government machine that the politicians. Pretty good for a non-politician. He talked about opening up government data sets and how he sees the government as a platform. Eric Dishman from Intel did a good job in the graveyard slot behind a Big Speaker – Eric is a veritable industry legend himself, and Intel’s major health advocate. He showed off a number of impressive proof of concepts for projects they’d tried out (e.g. new communication services to allow seniors to see who’s calling them and what was the last conversation about). Eric’s team is one of the most experienced in the industry about knowing what works and what doesn’t when it comes to tech adoption in the senior community, and they’ve probably disproved more hypothesis that many of us could even come up with in a lifetime.
Building an ecosystem approach
As mentioned before, the linkAges approach is about creating an ecosystem, and this weekend was focused on making sense of signals that can be used to discern patterns of behavior and provide an early warning system. What wasn’t clear to me is whether linkAges is planned as more than just an organizing concept (and a good one at that) or will be turned into an actual business system with its own data sets, APIs, partnerships and business models. Either way, this approach is absolutely needed in a space where there are far too many point-to-point solutions, and lack of business model thinking. Eric Dishman put it well, referring to a model that we also used at Nokia – it’s about BUTs, ie. think about Business models, User experience and Technology, combined. Despite what Meatloaf thinks, 2 out of 3 ain’t going to cut it.
Delivered – 20 (mostly) new business concepts around sensing
There were about 400 people to hear the public speeches in the morning, then what seemed to be about 80 people stayed for the rest of the weekend for the developer section. After lunch and a few introductions we organized ourselves into teams at 15 or so tables, and were guided through an innovation exploration process, focused on identifying the problems that we wanted to solve and specific data-driven signals that could be used to validate them. By the end of the weekend (5pm Sunday), 20 presentations, along the theme of data + tech + seniors, had been made by teams with names as eclectic as Lunch With Me, Grandma’s Keys, Meter Made and SunHatPig (the latter two the eventual winners, and no, after explanation I still don’t know why they were called SunHatPig). Meter Made used the idea of smart meters to deliver insight about daily activities of the seniors, and SunHatPig provided a platform to support caregivers locally. I really enjoyed working with our team (Geoff Clap, Katy Thomas Fike, Donna Booher, Kathy Lane and Pengguang Wu) to put together two concepts – Community Watch (encouraging mobility and community in seniors) and Care Pulse (supporting caregivers in the workplace), and though we didn’t win, we all got a lot out of the experience.
The Computer Science museum in Mountain View is one of my favorite destinations for this kind of event. It has big, light and airy conference rooms, with a storied history and exotic Big Machines in the ground floor exhibition. Breakfast was great – whereas the default is a melon-rich fruit salad, plastic bagel and coffee, we were treated to fabulous egg & potato omelettes, quiches and food and snacks throughout the day that kept us going. Coming off the healthy TedMed cuisine the amount of sugar and carbs seemed a little indulgent, but was delicious.
The staff were plentiful, and smiled almost all the time. The name badges had QR codes that worked well (though could have done with company, title and phone number, not just name and email), and the AV was great. As teammate Katy noted, it is one of those things that if you do it perfectly, nobody notices, so it was worth a shout out (and Jeff made the AV guy’s day by complimenting him from the stage).
A novel format…
This innovation program has been thoughtfully put together by PAMF and the experienced team at Health2.0 who have run a number of health innovation hackathons in the past, in particular last year’s Datapalooza, which will be repeated this June. It provided a general guidance about the problem areas and approach that was of interest, but then left 80 people to their own devices to figure out the rest. The result was an eclectic mix of ideas, some novel, some well worn, and it would be interesting to hear PAMF’s perspectives about how new these ideas were. When we did an innovation workshop session with United Healthcare last month, they said something I thought was helpful – we’ve heard a lot of it before, but if we hear 10% that’s new, we’ll be happy.
…with a potential glitch
The downside of kicking off a competition that is a 3-month open call for ideas, with a weekend competition, means that there’s a danger you’re over-fishing from a small pool. Effectively, since there were only 3 winners, 17 of the 20 keenest teams that turned up on the opening weekend were, er… losers. That’s just math. But it may mean that some of those who didn’t make the cut don’t feel like working on a new (or repurposed) project for 3 months, with limited financial upside. The winner will be guaranteed a 6 month ‘apprenticeship’ with PAMF which will be hugely valuable, but currently there aren’t any other prizes for 2nd place.
Couple of suggestions for the team:
1) More feedback on the submissions
Would have been good to hear when the winners were announced what was it about them them the judges found to be so significant. My sense is that they were looking for big, but achievable ideas, with a well thought-out go to market plan. Also, it would be nice to have the ability to opt-in to feedback from the judges – perhaps a short summary about each submission that captured the sense of what the conversation was. No further follow up or discussion would be needed, but it would be useful to get a flavor.
2) Customer immersion
This is a tall order for any short workshop – to get ‘hands on’ experience with actual customers. Many people will already have their own ideas and tales from their own customer experiences, but PAMF has access to ‘real people’, so it would be great to be able to query them about ideas, perhaps with a seniors panel, moderated by someone from PAMF. (This format worked well as a kids panel at various events I’ve been to). One of the highlights of the weekend for me was when Geoff came in on Sunday beaming – he’d spend the night before chatting with his elderly neighbors, and had generated invaluable real-world customer input on the first ideas we’d generated on the Saturday, and was able to turn that into a very convincing mock up of a solution around the power of walking, that we’d have never guessed on our own. [For the record, Jeff, 'walking deserts' is still a killer idea.]
So overall a fantastic event and one very much aligned with the mission of Aging2.0 to support innovation, excitement and creation in this space. Based on this experience, PAMF has set the bar at a new high when it comes to senior-market innovation by health systems.