HealthCentral on their Experience at the DC Code-a-thon

Saturday marked the first Health 2.0 Developer Challenge (or hackathon, if you will) in Washington, D.C.  While a few of these challenges have happened before (in such far-away places as San Francisco), this was the first to be centered in our nation’s capital, the heart of health public policy, and only a stone’s throw from the HealthCentral offices.  So of course we attended.

The Scene:

Let me first say this was a well-run, well-attended event.  I’ve been to these types of things before where it’s just a free-for-all.  Ready. Set. CODE!  No direction, no collaboration.  The Health 2.0 people attracted around 60 of the most engaged supporters and shapers of the future of health online, and provided a framework by which we could collaborate and prototype.  Doctors, researchers, policy-makers, and coders all joined up to make use of several newly available (seriously new, as in launched at the opening talks) government data sets (e.g.

The main government health organizations have truly embraced the Open Government Initiative.  HHS, CMS, NCI, and others were all present and pushing their latest and greatest APIs for tapping into the vast but as-yet-untamed sea of health data.  There was genuine excitement from both the distributors and consumers of this data that we are on the verge of revolutionizing health on the internet.

The Team:

HealthCentral arrived with a solid showing of 4 developers (Mit, Mark, Luke and myself – do I still count as a developer??), our head of Content (Hua) and our head of Analytics (Jess).  What better team to crunch a bunch of data, sling some code, and turn it into something useful?  Our goal was to mashup our own anonymized search data (what users are looking for on our site) with publicly available data on the location of mammograph centers and clinical trials in order to produce:

  • A visualization of the proximity of users searching for breast cancer info and real-world physical places where they could go to access that information
  • A tool by which a user could find the closest treatment center to them and get the critical info they needed to evaluate it’s usefulness.

The Result:

Eight hours later we had both of these tools functioning.  Were they polished?  Sort of.  Were they proof-of-concept that they could be done?  Absolutely.  We hope to integrate these tools into the site in the near future, but in the meantime here’s a few screenshots.

The Map:

The App:

The Wrap-up:

At the end of the day, 6 teams submitted prototypes to be judged by the Health2Dev panel.  We finished in a tie for second.  The bad news, we didn’t win.  The good news, we’ve been asked to refine our product and present again at the Health 2.0 Spring Fling in San Diego.  I’m looking forward to seeing what the other DC teams have added to their offerings.  Both Team Maya and the Blue Meter team produced great product ideas, which really showed the power of harnessing the open data available to us.  I’m sure that the other teams from around the country will have something remarkable to show as well.

Greg Fitzgerald, Vice President of Technology, has been with HealthCentral November 2006. This post was initially featured on the SoHealth Blog.

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