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Currently submitted to: Journal of Medical Internet Research

Date Submitted: Nov 14, 2019
Open Peer Review Period: Nov 14, 2019 - Jan 9, 2020
(currently open for review)

Hackathons as a stepping stone in health care innovation: a case study with systematic recommendations

  • Akira-Sebastian Poncette; 
  • Pablo-David Rojas; 
  • Joscha Hofferbert; 
  • Alvaro Valera Sosa; 
  • Felix Balzer; 
  • Katarina Braune; 



Up until recently, developing health technologies is time consuming and expensive, and often involves patients, doctors, and other health care professionals (HCPs) only as passive recipients of the end-product. So far, users have been poorly involved in ideation and creation stages in digital health. In order to best address their unmet needs, a transdisciplinary and user-led approach, involving co-creation and direct user feedback, is required. In this context, hackathon events have become increasingly popular to generate enthusiasm for user-centered innovation.


This case study describes preparatory steps and performance of a health hackathon directly involving patients and HCPs at all stages. Feasibility and outcomes were assessed, leading to the development of systematic recommendations for future hackathons as a vehicle for bottom-up innovation in health care.


A 2-day hackathon was conducted in February 2017 in Berlin, Germany. Data was collected through a field study. Collected field notes were subsequently discussed in 15 informal meetings within the research team. Experiences of conducting two further hackathons in December 2017 and November 2018 were included.


In total, 30 participants took part, with 63% (n=19) aged between 25 and 34 years, 30% (n=9) between 35 and 44 years, and 7% (n=2) being younger than 24 years. 43% (n=13) were female. Participation rate of medical experts, including patients and HCPs, was 30% (n=9). Five multidisciplinary teams were formed, and each tackled a specific health care problem. All presented projects were apps: a chatbot for skin cancer recognition, an augmented reality exposure-based therapy (e.g., for arachnophobia), an app for medical neighborhood connectivity, a doctor appointment platform and a self-care app for people suffering from depression. Patients and HCPs initiated all of the projects. Performing the hackathon resulted in a significant growth of the digital health community of Berlin, and was followed up by larger hackathons. Systematic recommendation for conducting cost-efficient hackathons (n≤30) were developed, including aspects of community building, stakeholder engagement, mentoring, themes, announcements, follow-up, and timing for each step.


This study shows that hackathons are effective in bringing innovation to health care, are more cost- and time efficient and potentially more sustainable than traditional medical device and digital product development. Our systematic recommendations can be useful to other individuals and organizations that want to establish user-led innovation in academic hospitals by conducting transdisciplinary hackathons. Clinical Trial: n/a


Please cite as:

Poncette A, Rojas P, Hofferbert J, Valera Sosa A, Balzer F, Braune K

Hackathons as a stepping stone in health care innovation: a case study with systematic recommendations

JMIR Preprints. 14/11/2019:17004

DOI: 10.2196/preprints.17004


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