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Dawn of a New Age of Innovation

It took two innovative self-starters and a dose of caffeine to kick-start the idea for the first ever SingHealth Hackathon. SingHealth Residents, Dr Cheong May Anne and Dr Rena Dharmawan share a common vision: to create a platform that enhances patient safety and inspires improvements to the healthcare system. Together, the duo initiated the inaugural SingHealth Hackathon to give healthcare professionals and medical students an opportunity to collaborate, design and build new ideas and solution to improve patient care. 


What was the inspiration behind the SingHealth Hackathon? 

Rena: I attended my first Hackathon in 2016: the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Hacking Medicine. After that event, I realized how a Hackathon can bring people from different backgrounds together to develop innovative ideas and solve real-life issues. With that, I wanted to create an event in SingHealth that brings together a community of people who are keen to change the way we practice. At last year's Residents’ Committee (RC), I pitched the idea. May Anne, one of the co-chairs of the RC, supported the idea and we started working on it. 

May Anne: The idea of innovation resonated with me. Listening to Rena’s past experience, I was greatly inspired. We shared this idea with senior management and one thing led to another. 


How have your Residency mentors encouraged and helped you bring the event to fruition? 

May Anne: A/Prof Lim Boon Leng, the SingHealth Residency Designated Institutional Official (DIO), was very supportive and provided us with the avenues to present the idea. Despite holding the event one week before Lunar New Year (not an ideal time), many members of senior management and leaders came to support the event. Rena and I were awed and very appreciative that senior management is forward thinking and greatly supports Residency-led initiatives. 

How were the topics: ‘Coordination’, ‘Communication’ and ‘Rehabilitation’ conceptualized?

Rena: We wanted to work on topics that were current, big issues affecting healthcare; something that all departments/specialties could identify and work on. 

May Anne: One of our challenges was to find themes that would resonate with both clinical and non-clinical staff. We really wanted to include different sectors of SingHealth. The first two topics we came up with were Rehabilitation and Communication, which were universal. Upon speaking with our organisers, we realized that the theme Coordination was very important as well. 


What were some of the challenges you faced and how did you overcome them? 

May Anne: Since Hackathon is a relatively new idea, we had to tackle the mindset. The idea of innovation and collaboration was not new but the concept of doing a Hackathon was new. It took us one year to get the support and funding. Having to work with diverse groups of people from different departments was a good learning journey and experience. 

Rena: We are hoping to open up the SingHealth Hackathon to other institutions and universities because we lack technical and coding expertise if we keep it all in-house. Hopefully for the next event, we will be able to partner other institutions to gather a more diverse pool of participants. 

What did you aspire to achieve for this event? Were the aspirations met? 

Rena: We were very happy with the outcome of the event. The SingHealth Hackathon brought young and innovative people from multidisciplinary backgrounds together to network and brainstorm on ideas. Many great ideas were presented and some of the good projects can be transformed into practice, which could impact the lives of patients and ultimately improve patient outcomes. 

May Anne: Our main challenge now is to translate all the ideas that were presented into actual projects, concepts and even startups. For instance, some departments in SingHealth have indicated interest in the projects and some teams have received support from departments. This is excellent because sometimes the most important thing (apart from money) is the willpower to push ideas through.


What can we do to continue the spirit of innovation and collaboration even though the event has ended? 

Rena: We need to continue to cultivate the spirit of innovation in our daily work as Clinicians, and as medical students. We need to always be curious and ask questions, think of ways to improve things, for the sake of our patients. 

May Anne: I agree. Hackathon is a very deliberate attempt to bring people together and it consists of people who are very dynamic and not afraid to change. Moving forward, we should question ourselves: how can we collaborate and learn from each other? We need to examine how other industries operate and how we can adopt those practices and ideas, and implement them into healthcare. We need to step out and learn from others. 


Why has this initiative garnered so much support and interest from so many different groups of people? 

Rena: I think the support and interest came because it is a new idea. We emailed and spoke to different parties and were quite persistent. I hope after the event, not only the participants, but the senior management and leaders within SingHealth can see the power of bringing people together to solve unmet clinical needs in an extremely fun environment. 

May Anne: We were heartened to see so many dynamic people within SingHealth, people who were willing to give up two days of their personal time. The participants came from diverse backgrounds and different departments. They may be individuals from education or physiotherapy, but when you bring them together, you will get a multiplication of ideas and positive energy. 


What is one advice for medical students who are inspired to innovate but unsure of where to begin?

Rena: Find a good mentor – I think that is key. There are so many inspiring people around, not only in SingHealth but from the other healthcare clusters as well. Also, look at other industries for inspiration because this is the best time to be in innovation and startups. Finally, not to be clichéd, but I really believe in the phrase “Just do it!”. If there is something that you believe in and are passionate about, just take the leap of faith. 

May Anne: Start early. Learn to question the norm, and challenge how we can do things better. All these leadership and innovation skills that you pick up will be very useful when you start working because in medical school there is a lot of flexibility to explore new things and make mistakes. I am heartened to see medical students at such events because they are usually very vocal and involved.