Background: Until recently, developing health technologies was time-consuming and expensive, and often involved patients, doctors, and other health care professionals only as passive recipients of the end product. So far, users have been minimally involved in the ideation and creation stages of digital health technologies. In order to best address users’ unmet needs, a transdisciplinary and user-led approach, involving cocreation and direct user feedback, is required. In this context, hackathon events have become increasingly popular in generating enthusiasm for user-centered innovation.
Objective: This case study describes preparatory steps and the performance of a health hackathon directly involving patients and health care professionals at all stages. Feasibility and outcomes were assessed, leading to the development of systematic recommendations for future hackathons as a vehicle for bottom-up innovation in health care.
Methods: A 2-day hackathon was conducted in February 2017 in Berlin, Germany. Data were collected through a field study. Collected field notes were subsequently discussed in 15 informal meetings among the research team. Experiences of conducting two further hackathons in December 2017 and November 2018 were included.
Results: In total, 30 participants took part, with 63% (19/30) of participants between 25 and 34 years of age, 30% (9/30) between 35 and 44 years of age, and 7% (2/30) younger than 25 years of age. A total of 43% (13/30) of the participants were female. The participation rate of medical experts, including patients and health care professionals, was 30% (9/30). Five multidisciplinary teams were formed and each tackled a specific health care problem. All presented projects were apps: a chatbot for skin cancer recognition, an augmented reality exposure-based therapy (eg, for arachnophobia), an app for medical neighborhood connectivity, a doctor appointment platform, and a self-care app for people suffering from depression. Patients and health care professionals initiated all of the projects. Conducting the hackathon resulted in significant growth of the digital health community of Berlin and was followed up by larger hackathons. Systematic recommendations for conducting cost-efficient hackathons (n≤30) were developed, including aspects of community building, stakeholder engagement, mentoring, themes, announcements, follow-up, and timing for each step.
Conclusions: This study shows that hackathons are effective in bringing innovation to health care and are more cost- and time-efficient and potentially more sustainable than traditional medical device and digital product development. Our systematic recommendations can be useful to other individuals and organizations that want to establish user-led innovation in academic hospitals by conducting transdisciplinary hackathons.