Appalachian Health Hack-a-thon will bring together many

by Jared Arnett and Dr. William Hacker

A team of researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), 150 people from across the commonwealth, the directors of both the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute on Drug Abuse – all will be descending on Somerset, Ky., Oct. 6 in an unprecedented event.

The Appalachian Health Hack-a-thon will bring together diverse minds that are united in their interest for solving the region’s greatest health challenges.

A hack-a-thon convenes people with different backgrounds and areas of expertise to form teams, collaborate within a limited timeframe and focus on a specific problem. By diagnosing the issue from multiple perspectives, the process will create innovative, disruptive ideas and solutions.

MIT’s Hacking Medicine program has held more than 40 events worldwide, but this is the first time MIT has held a hack-a-thon in Appalachia. Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR), with the help of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), is bringing the program to Kentucky.

Problems related to the poor overall health in Appalachia – especially in the SOAR focus areas of obesity, diabetes and substance abuse – are impacting our families, communities and economy.

We must improve results, reduce the incidence of chronic disease and begin to turn the tide on the consequences of the massive substance abuse epidemic we are facing.

That’s why SOAR issued a public invitation to gather the brightest minds – from health to business and entrepreneurs to information technologists to innovators and engineers to social workers, patients and students.

The impact will last well into the future and be a model for problem-solving throughout the commonwealth. Participants not only will develop action-based solutions that bridge the gap among health, entrepreneurship and economic development, they also will bring this strategy and problem-solving technique back to their communities and organizations.

Other hack-a-thons across the country have spawned technologies that are solving real-world problems and creating new businesses. Examples include an infant resuscitator device designed to help prevent newborns from dying of breathing problems, which kill 1.8 million newborns each year; and mobile technology to help primary-care physicians and patients manage chronic diseases and encourage sustained healthy living practices.

Participants in the Appalachian Health Hack-a-thon will implement this problem-solving technique, which is used by the technology industry and companies like Google. Here’s how it will work:

The event will kick off Thursday, Oct. 6 with a reception at the Center for Rural Development. Keynote speakers include Congressman Hal Rogers; Dr. Doug Lowy, Director of the National Cancer Institute; and Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The reception also will include an official IGNITE event, which will allow up to eight presenters to deliver high-powered 5-minute presentations that are meant to enlighten and inspire participants.

The hack-a-thon will start at 8 a.m. Friday, Oct. 7. It will be facilitated by MIT, and 150 people from across Eastern Kentucky and the commonwealth who have pre-registered will have the opportunity to participate, free of charge. They will work within small teams to tackle substance abuse and obesity/diabetes – from problem to solution.

In addition, the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative will be live broadcasting the entire event into two offsite locations, where it will host three teams of five to six high-schoolers from the SOAR region. These students will be able to “hack” into the health problems with assistance from onsite mentors and MIT staff.

The event will end on Saturday afternoon as teams present their solutions to a panel of judges. Participants will have the chance to win the most innovative solution in two tracks – obesity/diabetes and substance abuse. Prizes include up to $1,500 in cash for the winning teams in each track, recognition and the potential to work with business incubators and accelerators. Additional prizes are available for participants that work on specific problems posed from our sponsors at Passport Health Plan.

The hack-a-thon is an opportunity for us to tap into the ingenuity of our best and brightest minds as we energize a movement to find innovative solutions to the health disparities that have plagued our Appalachian region for generations.

It will inspire ideas and ignite solutions to benefit our entire commonwealth for generations to come.

by Jared Arnett and Dr. William Hacker

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