Healthcare Hackathons - How Nurse Experiences Improve Health Outcomes

06 December 2019

Written by Rebecca Love, RN, BS, MSN, FIEL: OptimizeRx Principal, Clinical Innovation, and President of SONSIEL. Connect with Rebecca on LinkedIn

On the weekend of November 15th – 17th, 2019 hundreds of nurses convened in New Brunswick, New Jersey to participate in the SONSIEL Nurse Hackathon, sponsored by Johnson & Johnson. Check out Johnson & Johnson's featured story on the event here. You may be asking yourself, why would nurses participate in a Hackathon - or even what is Hackathon - and why are they important to the future of solving healthcare’s challenges?  Allow me to explain...

What are Healthcare Hackathons?

A “Hackathon” is a term that was coined by the tech industry in the late 1990s - early 2000s, when large technology companies would convene a group of employees over the course of the weekend to address “technology” challenges in their platforms. They found that these rapid “innovation” events that brought together people of different backgrounds were highly effective for identifying new creative solutions to technology problems for their company. The effectiveness of such events began to spread outside of technology and eventually found their way into healthcare.    

Healthcare Hackathons, much like technical Hackathons, are a space of rapid innovation. People of different backgrounds come together to pose problems they want to solve in healthcare, form teams, and over the course of a weekend, create new “innovative solutions” for the challenges they are facing. At a healthcare Hackathon teams can create technology solutions, actual physical products, to new processes and procedures to drive efficiency, with a goal to save lives and create better outcomes for patients in healthcare.   

Hackathons are specifically helpful in bringing the “end-user” front and center and identifying the problems they want to solve. This central focus on the end user suddenly creates a new vantage point from which to view the problem - and in the instance of a healthcare Hackathon - the end user is often the nurse.

Why Nurses are Vital To Hackathons

Nurses, the end user of nearly every medical product on the market, are at the center of nearly every patient interaction within healthcare. Nurses manage hundreds of thousands of dollars of highly complex technology, medications and devices on every shift they work to keep patients alive. Nurses have the frontline knowledge of the “bottlenecks, breakdowns and inefficiencies”, consistently navigating a sea of interoperability between systems and devices in all healthcare settings. Unlike anyone else in healthcare, it is the nurse who, through their incredible knowledge and expertise, truly sees the problems and breakdowns, that if addressed, could lead to millions of patients’ lives being positively affected by new solutions to these problems.

"Together with Johnson & Johnson, SONSIEL hosted their first NurseHackathon Nov 15th-17th, 2019. Hundreds of nurses from around the US, UK & Canada participated in a weekend that created solutions for 19 challenges that nurses face on the frontlines of healthcare."
Rebecca Love
OptimizeRx Principal, Clinical Innovation, and President of SONSIEL

For decades, nurses had traditionally been left out of healthcare hackathons, until in 2016 when the first Nurse Hackathon was held at Northeastern University in Boston, Ma. The event was so successful that it led to a new movement in healthcare referred to as “Nurse Innovation & Entrepreneurship”. As a result in 2019 SONSIEL, a 501C3 Non-Profit was founded by a leading group of nurses from around the US and abroad, with a vision of world where nurses are significant leaders recognized for transforming healthcare and our society. Their mission is to magnify, network and elevate the expertise of nurse innovators as transformation agents that contribute to the reform of healthcare.  

Together with Johnson & Johnson, SONSIEL hosted its first Nurse Hackathon Nov 15th-17th, 2019. Hundreds of nurses from around the US, UK & Canada participated in a weekend that created solutions for 19 challenges that nurses face on the frontlines of healthcare.  Topics ranged from: Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy Patients, Errors on Nightshifts, Infection Control, Telehealth for the Chronically Underserved, School Shootings, Care Management in Nursing Homes, Optimizing Care for Patients and beyond, you can see a full list of presentations via Whiteboard drawings, by Rachel Acker here.

If you are inspired to join a NurseHackathon to help transform the future of healthcare for patients, you can find more information about the event at Johnson & Johnson Nursing or Also, we’d like to recognize all the employers, such as Massachusetts General HospitalCleveland Clinic, Johnson & Johnson, OptimizeRX, SE Health CanadaAdventist Health, and many others who supported their employees to participate in such innovation events, that will ultimately lead to new and better solutions in healthcare for all.