Yale Healthcare Hackathon to Encourage New Uses for Artificial Intelligence


“What I love,” says Alyssa Siefert, Engineering Director at Yale Center for Biomedical Innovation and Technology (CBIT), “is a democratization of problem solving.” Siefert is one of the lead organizers of the Yale Healthcare Hackathon, an event in its fifth year that brings together a diverse group of clinicians, engineers, designers, patients and community members Jan 19-21 at Yale School of Medicine to design solutions to healthcare challenges. Last year, the event had representatives from eight countries and two dozen universities, and those numbers have been on the rise. About half the participants are non-Yale.

The main sponsor of this year’s event is 4Catalyzer, a Guilford, Connecticut-based accelerator founded by Dr. Jonathan Rothberg, who serves as its Chief Strategy Officer, for launching new biomedical startups with a heavy emphasis on medical devices, artificial intelligence and big data. Rothberg is the inventor of high-speed DNA sequencing and an Adjunct Professor of Research of Genetics at Yale and will be delivering a keynote talk at the event. 4Catalyzer provides both expertise and funding to get promising startups off the ground, including Butterfly, maker of a handheld ultrasound device that relies on a semiconductor chip and a smartphone. Butterfly is one of the innovative technologies driving specific challenges at this year’s hackathon, the theme of which is “Artificial Intelligence Enabling Medicine.”

“It’s an interesting technology,” says Siefert of Butterfly. “It’s one of the first direct-to-consumer medical technologies and it enables telemedicine.”

Some teams will work directly with Butterfly’s device – Butterfly iQ – to find ways that the ultrasound data can be best presented on a mobile device, how ultrasound images can be annotated by doctors on small screens, and how the ultrasound’s images can be “anatomically registered” to specific parts of the body. Another AI-focused challenge from the Consortia for Improving Medicine with Innovation and Technology (CIMIT) will involve developing health technologies to diagnose and treat disease in resource-constrained environments, whether spaceships or remote medical centers in the midst of natural disasters.

There are also opportunities for problem-solving outside the event’s main theme. The Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale (Tsai CITY), a hackathon sponsor, is posing the challenge of using a combination of digital technology and physical space design to improve the patient experience in a hospital, emergency room or clinical environment. “We’re excited to see new approaches to solving problems for patients – a topic we’ll be exploring in other aspects of our programming at CITY,” says Kassie Tucker, Program Director at Tsai CITY. “We think there’s incredible value to diverse teams coming together to discover solutions and look forward to using resources at CITY to provide additional support for the winning team.”

Siefert is quick to point out that non-technical people—including artists, designers, community members and patients—are highly encouraged to apply and are needed to round out teams.

She says they’ve taken steps to make the hackathon process more rigorous this year with added venture capitalists mentoring teams to help assess feasibility in the formation stages, and giving sponsors more direct responsibility for providing guidance to winners. “What someone comes up with in 24 hours needs additional work,” she says. “They don’t have time at the hackathon to really assess the competitive landscape.”

CONTACT: Brita Belli, Communications Officer, Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale, (203)804-1911, brita.belli@yale.edu.

Brita Belli