Physicians and other healthcare professionals are often the end users of medical innovation; however, they are rarely involved in the beginning design stages. Too often this results in ineffective and inefficient solutions with poor adoption rates. Innovation efforts would likely benefit at the design stage from clinical experience and key insights from frontline healthcare professionals, particularly those at academic medical centers.
Hackathons, which bring together stakeholders in the early design phase, are becoming an increasingly popular way to identify the most urgent or important clinical needs and create new products, systems, services, datasets and tools that will improve healthcare delivery. Hacakthons and their cousins, datathons , have been recommended as open-source or “crowd source” models to support cross-disciplinary collaboration  in an effort to foster innovation in medicine . Boudreau and Kakhani described four models of crowd-sourcing innovation in an article for the Harvard Business Review . These models included: 1. a crowd contest (e.g., hackathon); 2. a crowd collaborative community (businesses teaming up with online communities that contain customers as well as software engineers and others); 3. a crowd complementor (e.g., developers that create complementary products for the iPhone); and, 4. a crowd labor market (third party intermediaries that match buyers and sellers). The first model, a crowd contest such as a hackathon, was deemed the most straightforward way to engage a crowd. Crowd contests work by identifying a specific problem, offering a prize and inviting people to submit solutions. These types of contests have been going on for centuries and have resulted in many scientific breatkthroughs.
Recently, Youm and Wiechman described the Med AppJam as a model for educating students and engaging them in technology healthcare solutions [5, 6]. Zaaijer and Erlich described using “applied hackathon sessions” in an academic classroom setting for undergraduate and graduate students to help educate them about genomics . Students in architecture, design, enginnering, communication and anthropology participated in a hackathon in an effort to designed “youth friendly” hospital rooms.  Craddock et al. described a “brainhack” in which they used components from hackathons, unconferences and parallel educational sessions . We propose that hackathons themselves, regardless of whether there are additional educational sessions offered, provide an opportunity to not only educate students but all participants, irrespective of age or area of expertise, via a unique process that supports interdisciplinary collaboration through open innovation. Despite the interest and growth of healthcare hackathons, currently there are very few published reports describing them in the medical literature.
The word hackathon is derived from hack and marathon. As the name suggests, the event involves an intense and discrete period of collaboration. Hackathons are not intended to be a standalone innovation event or process but rather are one part of an innovation continuum that can help accelerate and improve future solutions.
One of the challenging parts of starting a hackathon is trying to explain what this is to healthcare professionals who are unfamiliar with the term. The literature offers various descriptions but no clear definition . Because of the confusion we encountered when trying to describe a healthcare hackathon to various internal and external individuals who we needed support from (e.g., hospital administrators) or wanted to encourage to participate (e.g., physicians), we quickly recognized the need to more clearly articulate what it is. Therefore, we have developed a new definition as follows:
is a competitive event (live or virtual) that has three specific goals--accelerating the innovation of medical solutions, improving the design in the beginning stages, and supporting educational training for all participants--and aims to accomplish them by focusing on a specific problem (pain point), bringing together in an open innovation format (internal and external resources) an interdisciplinary group of individuals (hackers) that include, but are not limited to, physicians and other healthcare professionals, data scientists, engineers, user interface designers, business professionals, students and other stakeholders who work in teams and follow a process to develop initial prototypes, pitch them to a panel of judges experienced in innovation and quickly alter them according to the feedback (pivoting).
We have also summarized some of the commonly used terms that participants in hackathons should be familiar with (Table 1).