Recap: Edmonton’s HealthHack Competition

Yesterday afternoon I had the opportunity to help judge the City of Edmonton’s HealthHack Competition. Connected to Edmonton’s Smart Cities Challenge, the competition invited citizens to propose innovative approaches to improve the four health indicators of mental health, physical health, social health, and economic health. Nearly 40 proposals were submitted, and a previous round of judging (that I was not involved in) narrowed that down to the top 5, who were invited to spend a month working on a prototype which they demoed at the event yesterday.

HealthHack Competition

These were the top 5 teams who presented a prototype:

Buddy Benches
Submitted by Troy Pavlek

“The City of Edmonton started the work on reducing social isolation with our buddy bench program, now I propose to take that simple act of saying “hello” online as well and make it easier and more persistent to connect with those around you. By connecting physical locations in Edmonton to a persistent online community we can reduce social isolation, improve mental health and get people out in the community.”

Cannabis Ecosystem
Submitted by Joe Dang and Reed Sutton

“With the legalization of recreational cannabis throughout Canada rapidly approaching, there is a significant lack of data regarding its use and effect on various aspects of health. By leveraging blockchain technology, Edmonton has the opportunity to shape a new national ecosystem surrounding healthy cannabis consumption and regulation, while simultaneously generating open and transparent data that will have global implications.”

Fitness App for Non-Athletes
Submitted by Dr. PJ Rawlek, K. DeZutter, N. Twal, C. Nicole, E. Barbaric and B. Poetz

“The current problem with the thousands of fitness app technologies is they’re designed to compete for that market of those 15% of Canadians, the highly motivated, exercise-experienced. Alternatively, the GoGet.Fit solution is designed to specifically target that 85%, the under-serviced mostly apprehensive exercise-naïve population. This solution will provide solid evidence-based strategies early-on to support the pursuit of a healthier active lifestyle and will optimize success through providing valued support from a professional team – their healthcare provider networked with a community-based exercise specialist.”

Urban Design/Mental Health App
Submitted by Fahim Hassan, Rokib S A, Mohib Khan and Hamman Samuel

“Develop an interactive web application that will collect geo-coded Twitter data, analyze the text and link it with socio-economic data. The insight will help planners and policy makers to improve urban design and achieve mental health outcomes.”

Wheelchair Accessibility Tracker
Submitted by Martin Ferguson-Pell

“We wish to make significant modifications to a research prototype to enable us to improve accessibility and provide information to wheelchair users about the physical effort needed to propel a wheelchair in our built environments (summer and winter).”

Thoughts on the competition

Picking a winner from those proposals was not easy! We scored each prototype on three criteria: health impact, innovation, and completeness. After each presentation, we had a few minutes to ask questions of the presenters. Everyone did such a good job of describing their prototype and fielding our queries.

HealthHack Competition
Members of the winning teams

Congratulations to Martin Ferguson-Pell, who took home the grand prize of $5,000 for his “Fitbit for wheelchairs”. While there could be advantages to trip planning using the data that the device collects, I actually think it would be more impactful to map areas of the city and use that to improve infrastructure and design. Pushing around a stroller these past couple of months has made it clear just how difficult it can be to traverse our city sidewalks, so I can’t even imagine what it must be like for wheelchair users. Apparently 75% of wheelchair users report shoulder issues, so anything we can do to make the ride smoother would have a big impact.

I love the premise behind GoGet.Fit: that most existing fitness apps and technologies are targeted toward people who are already active. The other 85% of the population needs some help, or we’re all going to pay for it via increased healthcare costs. Rather than just count steps using a Fitbit, GoGet.Fit connects you with professionals (doctors, nurses, fitness instructors, etc.) so that they can take a more active role in ensuring that you get active! They already have hundreds of users, and have conducted a successful pilot with a PCN.

Troy’s presentation for extending buddy benches into the digital realm was very engaging. Using NFC to quickly connect you to a community of people who have physically been where you are is a great idea. A little like checking in on Foursquare used to be, I guess.

The “Urban Design/Mental Health App” was a neat use of Twitter data, and is something I have often thought about. What can we learn from geotagged tweets that could help us improve the way we build our city?

I’ll admit that a bunch of red flags went up for me on the Cannabis Ecosystem prototype. Blockchain and cannabis? Talk about going after buzzwords! That said, the application of blockchain technology to safely collect and share data on cannabis use is intriguing, and the system they presented seems to be very well thought out. I look forward to seeing how they take it forward!

This being the first year that the City has held the HealthHack competition, they opened it to everyone, which means we ended up with an interesting mix of both existing and brand new projects. We struggled with that as judges. In future years, breaking proposals into two categories would be a good way to allow for both while making the judging a little more fair.

Well done to the finalists and indeed to everyone who submitted a proposal!

Health Innovation in Edmonton

Though they share a similar objective – innovation in healthcare – the HealthHack competition should not be confused with Hacking Health, an event that first happened in Edmonton back in 2013. That said, both events help bring the vision that Mayor Don Iveson first shared in 2016 of “positioning Edmonton as a world class health innovation city” to life. It’s exciting to see some real on-the-ground activity!

HealthHack Competition

Why Edmonton as a health city?

“The Edmonton ecosystem has a range of assets in the health innovation space. This includes Canada’s largest integrated health system and a readiness to diversify the economy; researchers and entrepreneurs who have created and will create new products, devices and system innovations; and a willingness to take risks in order to drive growth.”

You can learn more about the Health City Initiative here.

Recap: Hacking Health in Edmonton

Last weekend was Edmonton’s first Hacking Health, a unique event that aims to enable collaboration between technology geeks and healthcare workers to solve health-focused problems. The hackathon took place at the Edmonton Clinic Health Academy at the University of Alberta from Friday evening through Sunday afternoon and attracted dozens of participants and many more observers.

Hacking Health Edmonton 2013

Here’s what Hacking Health is all about:

Hacking Health is an experiment in collaboration. Our hypothesis is that the interface of front-line clinicians and technology experts will yield innovative approaches to some (not all) of healthcare’s most entrenched problems. By rapidly building and testing prototypes, we can identify the fraction of ideas that have the potential to scale and at the same time, allow others to take their learnings and apply them to new ideas. Our goal is to make this experimentation as low risk as possible for everyone involved – the individual participants, organizers, and supporters.

Hacking Health was founded a little over a year ago in Montreal by Jeeshan Chowdhury, Matthew Huebert, and Dominic Savoie. They found the startup scene and hackathons in particular quite intriguing, and felt that such events could have a positive impact on the world of health too.

What if they could get doctors, nurses, and other health professionals in the same room as technology experts? Could they reduce the risk of healthcare innovation by giving designers and developers exposure to the healthcare knowledge and connections they lack?

Since that first event in Montreal, more than 1000 clinicians, patients, designers, and developers have participated in subsequent events in Toronto and Vancouver. The Hacking Health team have ambitions to spread across the world, starting with Canada. For some additional background, check out this ExpressNews article.

It was only a matter of time until Hacking Health made its way to Edmonton, as this is Jeeshan’s hometown (we actually went to high school together). Our growing startup and technology scene combined with an established and widely recognized health sector make Edmonton a great fit for events like Hacking Health. I didn’t have the opportunity to participate in the event, but I did attend the demo session on Sunday.

Hacking Health Edmonton 2013

Hacking Health followed the same format as many other hackathons. Friday night is when the ideas are pitched and the teams are formed. If an idea or proposal catches your attention, you’re welcome to join the team. Once that’s done, the teams get down to work, spending all of Saturday trying to make progress on their solution or idea. Sunday is when the teams demo what they managed to accomplish over the weekend.

There were 33 projects pitched, 13 of which had teams formed around them. There was quite a bit of variation in the projects and team sizes, which made for an interesting set of demos! Each team had 2 minutes to show off their work, followed by an opportunity for the judges to ask some questions.

Hacking Health Edmonton 2013

Here’s a quick overview of the 13 teams that demoed:

  • Health Facility Wayfinding: This team didn’t actually take a technology approach to their solution. Instead they proposed the use of human guides along with signage to help people navigate the hospital.
  • Education for Extracorporeal Therapies: An extracorporeal procedure is one which is performed outside the body. In this case, the team focused on the need to do something with a patient’s blood, and they devised a clamp system using Arduino. It was described as an add-on to existing products, and while I can’t personally appreciate the impact it might have, others in the room seemed excited.
  • Kala: An Emergency Room Wait Time Genie: The idea with Kala was to use machine learning to predict wait times. They demoed a dashboard that would present that intelligence, and said the biggest challenge would be getting access to data from the hospitals. AHS does share estimated wait times, of course.
  • Referral Appointment Dashboard: Called ezReferral, this team’s project would allow doctors to negotiate with one another to simplify the complicated referral process. They are apparently about 80% of the way to completion!
  • LinkRX: This project aimed to build a link between doctors and pharmacists for prescriptions. Using a QR code on a prescription, the team hoped to ensure that prescriptions could not be forged and to make it easier for pharmacists to scan on their end (no more deciphering doctor’s notes). They said pieces of the system already exist, but their project was a unified system.
  • Tracking/Improving Emotional Well Being via Smart Phone: This team built an Android app to enable emotional tracking. The vision is to combine self-reported moods (the piece they worked on over the weekend) with everything else that your smart phone knows about you.
  • StandUp!: This team said “sitting is the new smoking” and their plan to get you up and out of your seat is an app that reminds you when you’ve been sitting for too long. It would assign you an activity, like doing ten squats, that you could invite a friend to join along in. You earn points for completing each activity, and your workplace could pay for data to monitor the health of its workforce.
  • Mis TakeAway: This project envisioned a safe space for health professionals to reflect on their mistakes, a sort of post secret for the healthcare industry. The webpage featured messages in a bottle, each of which contained a confession.
  • CoughDoc: Another simple but powerful idea formed the basis of this app – allow patients to record their cough (or their child’s) using a smartphone and send it to their doctor. The doctor could then diagnose remotely and determine whether an appointment is necessary.
  • Rehabilitation with games using KINECT: Rehabilitation using Kinect is not a new idea, but this team forged ahead with a fun, Super Mario Bros-inspired game nonetheless. They focused on rehab for an elbow injury in their game called Super Reventure World.
  • What’s for lunch?: This app is a tracker for nutritional information. Again, there are dozens of these services already out there, but what made it unique was the interface – users could enter plain English and the app would parse it and convert it to the appropriate nutritional information.
  • Walk-ins Welcome: It sounds like last minute cancellations are a big problem, and that’s what this project aimed to solve. The service would connect patients with last minute appointment times, and would allow doctors to keep track of which patients were no-shows.
  • TrialConnect: The final project was focused on connecting willing participants to clinical trial research. It’s like a matchmaking service for researchers and patients.

Hacking Health Edmonton 2013
The judges deliberate

In the end, CoughDoc, ezReferral, StandUp!, and Walk-ins Welcome were all recognized by the judges as well as sponsors BDC and Bird Communications. I think my favorite was StandUp!, perhaps because it seemed the most realistic and immediately impactful to me. It’s pretty amazing what each of the teams was able to accomplish in such a short amount of time!

Everyone seemed to have a great time over the weekend, and it was great to see all of the demos at the end. Congratulations to everyone that helped to make Hacking Health Edmonton happen! For more on the event, check out Tamara’s Storify.

Hacking Health Edmonton 2013
The StandUp! team

Hacking Health will be making its next stop in Calgary in February 2014, followed by events in Montreal and Hamilton before going international to New York City, Stockholm, and Strasbourg.

Here in Edmonton, stay tuned for a second Hacking Health event next fall. You can follow Hacking Health Edmonton on Twitter (they may get a meetup group going too). Check out more photos from the first event here.

Tracking my activity & sleep with the Fitbit

From the first moment I came across the Fitbit, I wanted one. A gadget to track how active I am and how much I sleep? Sign me up! The FAQ does a good job of describing what the Fitbit Tracker is:

The Fitbit Tracker contains a motion sensor like the ones found in the Nintendo Wii. The Tracker senses your motion in three dimensions and converts this into useful information about your daily activities. The Tracker measures the intensity and duration of your physical activities, calories burned, steps taken, distance traveled, how long it took you to fall asleep, the number of times you woke up throughout the night and how long you were actually asleep vs just lying in bed. You can wear the Tracker loosely in your pocket or clipped to your clothing, even bras.

Sounds great, right? Unfortunately, Fitbit doesn’t allow orders if you live in Canada, so that’s why I had never purchased one. But recently I came across a tweet from a fellow Canadian who said that he had successfully ordered a Fitbit by emailing the company. I gave it a shot, and was very pleased with the service! They took my credit card information over the phone, and a week or so later, my Fitbit arrived.


The Fitbit tracker is pretty small. If I’m wearing shorts or sweat pants around the house, I wear it on the waistband. When I’m wearing jeans, I attach the Fitbit to the small coin pocket. It’s very much a clip-it-and-forget-it kind of gadget. At night I use the provided wristband (which feels like it is really cheaply made but it gets the job done).

By default the Fitbit tracks the number of steps you take, the distance travelled, your “activity score”, and the number of calories you burn. At night you put it into activity mode before you go to sleep (by holding down the one button until the device says “Start”) and then it tracks the amount of time you’re asleep and the number of times you wake up. You can also use the website to track the number of calories you consume, your weight, heart rate, blood pressure, glucose levels, and more. The Fitbit comes with a small USB base station that I leave plugged into my computer. Anytime I come within a few feet of the base station, the Fitbit wirelessly syncs the data up to the website. My only nitpick here is that you need to check the website to see the battery level of the device – it would be better if it could appear on the device itself. On the plus side, it easily lasts over a week without charging.

One of the first things I did was check the number of steps it was recording. I’d count 100 steps and check to see if the Fitbit got it right. The most it was ever off on these tests was two or three steps, so it’s pretty accurate. You can enter stride length and other settings in your profile, but I haven’t bothered.

I started out tracking my food on the website too, but that didn’t last long. I found it too cumbersome to find foods or create new ones to match what I’m eating. I don’t feel any need or desire to count calories, so I guess it’s one area where you get out what you put in! I am tracking weight, body fat %, and body water %, however. I picked up a scale that calculates all of those things for $30, so it’s trivial to step on it in the morning and record the results.

The website is pretty great at visualizing the data it records, and it even lets you compare with other Fitbit users. But they also offer an API. I used the awesome script from here to get all the data via the API into a spreadsheet to create the charts below.

Here are the number of steps recorded for each day since I got the Fitbit:

On average I have been doing 9359 steps per day, just under my goal of 10,000 per day. Of course there are good days and bad days, as you can see!

Here are the number of hours I have slept each night:

My average during this time period is 6 hours, 45 minutes, again with some days better than others. The Fitbit also tracks how long it took you to fall asleep. That has just verified what I already knew: I can usually fall asleep in minutes!

Here are the number of awakenings per night:

I’m not entirely certain what an “awakening” is. Did I just toss and turn enough for it to register? Generally I don’t wake up very often, though it looks like I had a few restless nights.

Another thing the Fitbit tracks is your activity score, which is based on how active you are. It also records this by category. Here’s the average breakdown for me during the last few weeks:

What this means is that 71% of the time I am awake, I’m not moving very much. I guess this isn’t surprising – I know I could be more active! I walk quite a bit, but that’s about it. A lot of my time is spent on the computer. In fact, I know exactly how much time:

I use RescueTime to track my computer usage, so I was able to compare the data. Of the time that the Fitbit recorded I was sedentary, 47% of it was spent on the computer. The rest of the time would be eating, reading, watching TV, driving, coffee meetings, etc.

It’s probably too early to say that the Fitbit has had an impact on my activity or sleep, though there have been days where Sharon and I decided to go for a walk just so I could get closer to 10,000 steps. And I did buy the scale because of the Fitbit. So at least now I know where I stand!

I imagine one day all of this and more will be tracked automatically without needing to wear a little device (who knows what they’ll come up with). Until then, there’s the Fitbit. I’m really happy with it so far, and I would definitely recommend it!

World AIDS Day 2008

world aids day Today is the 20th anniversary of World AIDS Day. According to statistics from UNAIDS, there are 33 million people living with HIV worldwide, 2 million of which are children under the age of 15. Last year, 2 million people died from HIV. Today, the National Post wrote about how Canada will help cure the biggest humanitarian health crisis of our time:

Canada is poised, yet again, to play a leading role in advancing knowledge about HIV/AIDS to help find a cure. With the partnership announced in 2007 between the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the government of Canada to establish the Canadian HIV Vaccine Initiative, we are now one of the countries pioneering the next stage. This commitment of $139-million is a major boost to Canadian and international HIV/AIDS vaccine research and development efforts. Through this funding, a manufacturing facility will be built in Canada that will produce promising vaccines that can move more quickly to clinical trials. Stephen Lewis has declared this initiative an "important step forward," a sentiment shared by HIV/AIDS organizations around the world.

Stephen Lewis, a Canadian, was the United Nations special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa. You can learn more about the Canadian HIV Vaccine Initiative here.

Closer to home, HIV Edmonton has compiled a list of community events taking place today. The largest event is a non-denominational evening ceremony followed by a candlelight walk:

WHAT: World AIDS Day, December 1, 2008, 7:00pm
WHERE: Citadel Theatre, 9828 101A Avenue NW. Room TBA.

Please RSVP to Sue Ann Paydli via email or call 780-488-5742 ext. 221.

They point to the World AIDS Campaign website as an additional resource. You can learn more about the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) at Wikipedia, and for local information and events, check out HIV Edmonton.

I think what Terry Duguid said in the National Post is true, “it is easy for those of us in Canada who may not be directly affected by HIV/AIDS to become complacent.” I guess I am guilty of that. It’s only recently that I’ve become engaged, with events like the Aids Walk for Life. I’ve had Stephanie Nolan’s book 28 Stories of AIDS in Africa on my shelf for a while now, but haven’t gotten around to reading it. I really must do that.

Stop Aids. Keep the promise.

My klean kanteen is green

klean kanteen Last week Sharon bought me a water bottle. More than just a simple gift though, there’s a story behind this particular water bottle. You see unlike me, Sharon actually pays attention to the news when they talk about health scares. To me it seems like there’s a new study released every day telling me that the things I am enjoying right now are going to kill me, so I tend to tune the news out. It was over one of these “health scares” that we had a disagreement, many months ago. Sharon had been reading about plastic bottles, and how they can leech dangerous chemicals. My gut reaction was that her concerns were probably exaggerated, and I told her so at the time.

Of course, it turns out she was right (she usually is). Most of the problem centres around a compound known as Bisphenol A, or BPA. In the last year, many governments have issued reports questioning the safety of the compound, including Canada. Perhaps more importantly, the private sector has jumped on the anti-BPA bandwagon, with manufacturers like Nalgene issuing statements about the chemical and launching new BPA-free products. I’m not sure there is any conclusive evidence one way or the other, but it doesn’t matter – consumers don’t want products that contain BPA.

As a result, we went shopping for a new metal water bottle for Sharon (though there are some safe plastic ones – see this article for an overview). She eventually settled on a 18oz bottle made by klean kanteen. From their about page:

Klean Kanteens are made from #304 stainless steel, the material of choice in the food processing, dairy, and brewery industries. Stainless steel is easy to clean, durable, inert, sanitary, toxin-free, and non-leaching. Klean Kanteens are the stainless steel alternative to plastics. Plastics in landfills and oceans are one of the most alarming of today’s environmental stories.

I don’t think she chose it for the brand at the time, but rather because it seemed durable, affordable, and was surprisingly light (the 18oz bottle weighs 6oz). Another plus was the relatively large mouth on the bottle, making it easy to fit ice cubes inside.

Her purchase ended up being a good one! She takes her water bottle everywhere, and it does its job very well. And because it’s made of metal instead of plastic, water stays cold forever! Just another reason to ditch your plastic bottle.

I’ve never carried a water bottle around before, but I’ve gotten used to Sharon having hers. Like most people, I don’t drink enough water. If I have a water bottle handy though, I drink more.

Which brings us back to last week and the gift. I guess Sharon decided she’d had enough of me continually commenting on how great her water bottle was and drinking all her water, so she got me my very own! I have been taking my shiny new green, 27oz klean kanteen with me for the last few days and it rocks. I fill it up with water and ice cubes in the morning, and the water stays pretty cold throughout the day. Sometimes I fill it up again. I’m definitely drinking more water than I used to (and presumably ingesting less chemicals than I might have with a plastic bottle). Thanks Sharon!

If you’re in the market for a new water bottle, I’d definitely recommend klean kanteen.

Canadian man has no pulse!

Post ImageThis is one of those “wow that’s crazy” kind of stories. It seems a Canadian man from Quebec has received a new heart device called the “Heartmate II” and as a result, he no longer has a pulse:

The new mechanical heart, which is powered by batteries located in pouches on Mr. Langevin’s body, provides a continuous flow of blood so the patient has no pulse.

“Mr. Langevin happens to be the only individual currently living in Canada without a pulse and without a measurable blood pressure,” Dr. Cecere said Wednesday.

Apparently the device is longer lasting than other implants, with an estimated lifespan of up to ten years. The entire procedure cost about $100,000.

Pretty amazing.

Read: Globe & Mail

Diet Coke Plus – Coming Spring 2007

Post ImageAs you may or may not know, I’m a pretty hardcore Coke addict (cola and brand). I like just about everything Coke-related, including Diet Coke. Most of my friends say they don’t like the taste, but I do! And starting next year there will be even more reasons to enjoy Diet Coke with a new addition to the product line:

Diet Coke Plus, as the drink is called, will be “the first nutrient-enhanced carbonated soda to be offered by a major brand” and will not replace the current Diet Coke, which is the best-selling sugar-free soda in the world.

By nutrient-enhanced, they mean fortified with vitamins and minerals. Assuming it tastes like normal Diet Coke, I’d give it a try!

Read: Slashfood

MasterMaq's Podcast: The Sickness Episode

Post ImageI wouldn’t call it “episode 1” or anything, but here’s a quick little episode I recorded tonight for my podcast, powered of course by Podcast Spot. Basically I talk a little about the cold I picked up at the Expo, the drug I am using to get rid of it (Cold-FX), the outbreak at Lister Hall on the UofA campus, and my favorite, Purell.

Downloads, show notes, and much more can be found on the episode page.

For those of you interested in such things, I used the following to record this episode: Samson C03 microphone, Behringer Eurorack UB802 (connected to Audigy sound card), and Adobe Audition.

Read: The Sickness Episode

Sports bra monitors your heart

Health-related technology seems to be one of the most popular and innovative areas of research lately, with really interesting projects like this sports bra from Numetrex:

A sports bra from Numetrex picks up a runner’s heartbeat and sends the signal down to a computer attached onto a waistband or worn on the wrist. The system effectively cuts out the sometimes uncomfortable attachable sensors that runners and cyclists generally have to use if they want to monitor their heart.

The bra sells for $45, or $115 in a bundle with a Polar watch and transmitter.

Seems like a very good idea to me, makes a lot of sense. It also looks pretty much like a normal sports bra, which means there shouldn’t be too many reasons to stay away (except, presumably, price – though I have no idea how much sports bras normally cost). It’ll be interesting to see what other kinds of electronic fabrics we see. Even something like a pedometer built into your pants or shoes would be useful!

Read: CNET

Big Oil Profits and Alberta

thought I’d highlight this rather interesting discussion on the big oil
companies and their profits taking place at Robert McClelland’s My Blahg. After describing the profits of Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell, and Petro-Canada (all up, surprise surprise) Robert had this to say:

Pricks. I say regulate them. And to hell with Alberta if they don’t like it.

And later in the comments he says:

Someone else: And the NEP worked really well last time didn’t it…

Robert: It worked great for Eastern Canada where I live and only care about.

I don’t know if he’s trying to be funny, or if he’s serious, but I
thought they were interesting comments nonetheless. I don’t think it’s
fair to blame Alberta for the current rise in prices. There are a
number of different factors, including speculators as explained by Mark Cuban back in September.

Not only that, but Alberta is using at least some of the profits from oil for worthy purposes. For example, we’ve stockpiled lots of Tamiflu and are ready to share.
We’re also investing more in our already top notch childcare
facilities. You can be bitter about the high cost of oil and the amount
Alberta profits, but it’s not like we’re actively spending money to
snub the other provinces!

That being said, I wish Alberta would take the lead and get a
national energy policy started. It would be wise to be proactive about
it, instead of defensive, I think.

MORE: One other thing I wanted to point out – I think Albertans have just as much reason to complain about oil prices as anyone else. The oil is extracted here, refined here, and doesn’t have to travel anywhere else, yet we pay around 90 cents a litre (as of today). How does that make sense? There are absolutely no distribution costs, especially here in Edmonton where we have a number of refineries, yet we pay just as much as everyone else.

Read: My Blahg