NHS challenges become technology-driven solutions at Welsh health hackathon

The Welsh Health Gadget Hack brought together NHS professionals with industry partners and academics to develop new ideas and prototypes which address operational or clinical problems.

The Welsh Health Gadget Hack, which took place in Wrexham, North Wales, has awarded three collaborative projects with funding for further development, with a further runner-up project receiving special recognition.

The two-day event, which was a collaboration between the Bevan Commission, AgorIP and MediWales, brought together over 50 health and care professionals, technologists, academics and supporting agencies to tackle NHS challenges through innovative technology or gadgets.

Lynne Grundy, Director of Research and Development at Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, opened the hackathon with an invitation to industry partners (“Our doors are open”), followed by instructions from Wales Health Gadget Hack lead and Bevan Commission Deputy Director, Siôn Charles.

Consultant physicians, nurses, planning staff and GPs from Betsi Cadwaldr University Health Board and Powys Teaching Health Board arrived at Welsh Health Gadget Hack armed with the problems they face in their day-to-day work. They then heard from industry partners and academics who could provide the technological expertise they needed to make their solutions a reality.

Initial challenges included:

  • Sharing engaging films for people with dementia

  • A way for patients to self-monitor vital signs

  • Paperless diaries to record fluid levels, stool and urine types for children

  • Optimising patient fitness pre-surgery

  • Reducing pre-op assessment bottlenecks

  • Using technology to enable better communication between the Health Board and patients

Over 30 hours, the NHS staff brainstormed with technologists to refine and operationalise their solutions. Initial outputs included using RiTTA, Velindre Cancer Centre’s AI-driven chat bot, to interact in conversations about dementia and play films when prompted. Hackers also took part in a round-table discussion with Julian, a person with early onset Alzheimer’s, and Sarah, his wife and carer, to hear more about their needs and discuss possible solutions.

Teams were formed, who then presented their final collaborative challenges to a ‘Dragon’s Den’ panel of judges with expertise in digital health and care. The ‘Dragon’s Den’ session was facilitated by Ifan Evans (Director of Technology and Transformation, Welsh Government) and judges included Helen Northmore (Programme Manager, Digital Health Ecosystem Wales), Abi Phillips (Head of Healthcare Technology, Welsh Government), David Clarkson (Client Executive, IBM for Healthcare), Adrian Thomas (Director of Therapies and Health Sciences, Betsi Cadwaldr University Health Board) and Andrew Ireland (Meridan).

Product Forge, an organisation organising Europe’s largest health hackathon in Edinburgh in 2019, had spotted tweets about the event and were inspired to visit, live-streamed the pitches through YouTube.

The final challenges were:

  • Para VR, a collaboration between Welsh Ambulance Service and University of Chester

This project aims to provide vital paramedic training through Virtual Reality (VR), with an anytime-anywhere immersive experience for trainee paramedics to practise their skills. The technology enables paramedics to ‘feel’ the sensation of certain medical procedures, including a “popping sensation as a needle pierces skin and bone resistance”.

Team: Neil Vaughan and Thomas Day, University of Chester, Nigel Rees, Welsh Ambulance Service

  • Films for people with dementia, PocketMedicFilms

People who are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia are often provided with a bulky ‘information pack’, which is not engaging. This project aims to revolutionise the way people with dementia learn about their condition through filmed interviews. The team had identified new delivery mechanisms at the event, including the RiTTA chat bot and the potential for a TV channel.

Team: Kimberley Littlemore, PocketMedicFilms, Dr Jane Gilbert

  • ‘Poo App’, Powys Teaching Health Board and Aparito

This project aimed to provide a ‘one-stop shop’ for children with continence problems to record their fluid levels and stool and urine types, discover informative films and receive reminders about medication. Aparito, a digital health company, offered a pre-existing smartphone application that could be ‘re-skinned’ for this challenge.

Team: Jennifer Walsh, Powys Teaching Health Board, Siân Canty, Aparito

  • Super-challenge for patient management, Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board and Aparito

This project combined three initial challenges (to improve pre-op readiness, reduce pre-op assessments and improve communication) to create a “comprehensive app” to meet patient needs, with monitoring, recording and reminding capabilities.

Team: Sam Davies and Debbie Taylor, Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, Siân Canty, Aparito

After careful deliberation, the judges named Para VR as their top challenger, noting the clear need from the paramedics, and the value of NHS-university collaboration.

The next winner was the ‘Poo App’, with judges recommending that the team think about how they can tailor the application to children and parents.

The final winner was the ‘super challenge’, although judges wanted the team to re-set their scope to focus on prehabilitation for patients awaiting surgery as a trial, before applying the application to their other operational challenges.

The dementia films project was the runner-up but had special recognition from the judges, who recommended that the team identify communities and networks for Alzheimer’s and dementia to ensure that the films found the right audiences.

Event organisers Bevan Commission, AgorIP and MediWales would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who participated in the Welsh Health Gadget Hack, and the many more who followed their progress both in the event and online. A special thank you is made to the Welsh Government, for their support of the event and its successful projects.

If you would like to catch up with the action from the Welsh Health Gadget Hack, visit @waleshack on Twitter and use #WHHNW. You can also watch a livestream of pitches on YouTube, thanks to Product Forge.

The first image in this article is copyright Julia Kelly, Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board.

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