Authored by Guidemark Health, now part of Lumanity

How do you bring a group of diverse, health-minded thinkers together to ideate innovative solutions with the potential to address healthcare’s greatest challenges? You host a hackathon. Last week, we did just that and welcomed over forty guests to our inaugural H.A.C. (Health Action Community) event.

A Guidemark Health H.A.C. event is an all-day mini-hackathon where participants work in groups, bringing their unique experiences and a willingness to collaborate in order to formulate solutions with the greatest potential to address unmet needs. Together with CancerCare, we focused our inceptive H.A.C. on helping those living with Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC).

The idea for a hackathon was born out of our belief that big challenges require collaborative, creative, and diverse solutions. It was an exciting idea to provide the space and resources to enable people to take time of out their busy schedules to ideate solutions that could make a real difference for communities impacted by significant health challenges. With the ultimate goal for the day centered on having a viable idea that could be brought to market, we had to first execute. And so we found ourselves immersed in event planning.

By all accounts, the event was a great success. In retrospect, we learned a lot. We learned about the challenges and obstacles that those impacted by advanced breast cancer face. We learned about the logistics and details that go into planning a successful hackathon event. And we learned that dedicating time to think and cross-functional collaboration can generate powerful ideas. We’ll share these learnings in a three part series to help reinvigorate and remind us all of the responsibility we have to the communities we serve.

Part I: The Decision to Focus our Energy on Metastatic Breast Cancer

Metastatic Breast Cancer was an obvious choice for two reasons. First, the unique needs of people living with MBC are well researched and documented, but sadly, significant and vast unmet needs remain. Second, while positive trends in survivorship are encouraging, these challenges compound, detracting from the focus on treatment and negatively impacting quality of life.

In order to fully educate ourselves, we needed an expert with deep understanding of the patient journey so our first order of business was to establish a committee and identify a partner. Carolyn Ricci, Advocate and Former Program Director, Avon Breast Cancer Crusade, accepted our request to lead our effort and quickly became integrated into the team. She brought a unique perspective, credibility, and most importantly empathy to the planning conversations from day one. With her assistance and additional research, we explored the landscape of unmet needs. There are many, spanning physical, emotional, psychosocial, and practical challenges. We spoke to social workers on the front lines of patient care and tapped into the resources available to us from CancerCare.

We had to somehow summarize the challenges faced by the MBC community and clarify a problem definition for the teams to ideate against. With the number of unmet needs, we struggled to clearly define the challenge for the day. So we went back to the start.

Currently there are no known cures for metastatic breast cancer. In a moment, the routine of life is turned completely upside down and there is now a constant worry underlying every moment. With ongoing treatment, everything is negatively impacted – work, daily responsibilities, hobbies, and interests. Although every story is unique, there are common underpinnings – fear, isolation, pain and financial toxicity including food and housing insecurities. When we took a step back, it became apparent to us that if unmet needs could be addressed, the greatest outcome would be allowing someone to gain back a sense of control despite the number of uncertainties they now manage on a day to day basis.

Collectively, we were pleased with the challenge definition but we weren’t done yet. We had missed one critical step.

Then we were connected to Andrea Ottaiano, an inspiring woman living with breast cancer for twelve years. With an initial stage 3 diagnosis, progressing to stage 4 in the Fall of 2010, Andrea has refused to lower her expectations in life, going back to school and graduating from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition in May of 2014. As a Certified Health Coach, Health and Wellness Advocate, and Founder of Silver Lining Holistic Health, Andrea is spreading her knowledge and empowering others.

Initial conversations with Andrea helped validate our approach and expanded our perspective even further. She was immediately ready to help in any way possible. Her stamp of approval and excitement for the event was infectious and she ultimately played a major part in the day – from socializing the details to working with each team to refine their concepts for judging at the live event.

With Andrea’s approval that we had captured unmet needs appropriately, it was time to plan a Hackathon.

Read Part II here and Part III here

Andrea Ottaiano