News & Analysis

Healthtech hackathons look to find solutions for chronic pain and mental health issues

- April 19, 2016 3 MIN READ
chronic pain

Australia’s first ever hackathons focusing on solutions for chronic pain and mental health  have been announced as the healthtech community looks to find innovative ways to diagnose, treat, and manage health issues.

Sydney’s Fishburners will be hosting a Chronic Pain Hackathon on May 20 to address issues facing people living with chronic pain. The coworking space will bring together tech entrepreneurs, UX designers, data scientists, health professionals and people suffering from chronic pain to design social impact solutions. These solutions will be looking to tackle issues such as social isolation, pain, medication management, lifestyle, mental health and other challenges.

The event is organised by Chronic Pain Australia, a non-for-profit, volunteer run organisation that advocates for and supports people living with chronic pain.

The purpose of a chronic pain hackathon is to connect people living with chronic pain to mentors and health tech entrepreneurs to develop an MVP for Chronic Pain Australia.

The winning startup idea on the day will be awarded a prize to help support and develop its MVP. The startup will have the opportunity to either continue work and development on its application or it can decide to hand over source materials for Chronic Pain Australia to use and build the product, which will then be given to all Chronic Pain Australia members for free. .

Last year industry mentor Anne-Marie Elias and Coralie Wales, president of Chronic Pain Australia, attended GovHack, where they discovered how to use hacking to solve social problems. After the event both Elias and Wales decided to run a chronic pain hackathon to find new solution to health and social issues suffered by people living with chronic pain. 

“A lot of people living with chronic pain are on opioids, so they can’t work, or it makes it very difficult for them to function normally in society,” said Elias.

The Chronic Pain Hackathon will run as a co-design, like the TechFugees Hackathon event held last year.

“This time we’re using people living with chronic pain who are going to pitch the story and then co-design the solution with the techies,” explained Elias.

During the hackathon Elias hopes to discover new applications for chronic pain sufferers. Some of the applications she is looking at include a fitbit chronic pain application, and a reminder app on medication and a discovery point of free resources so people living with chronic pain can get tips and advice.

Elias wants the Australian community to tap into the global community and through the hackathon she hopes individuals will be offered alternative ways to connect with other sufferers around the world, at any time.

According to Painaustralia, one in five Australians live with chronic pain. This number is expected to increase from 3.2 million in 2007, to 5 million in 2050 as Australia’s population ages.

Chronic pain is Australia’s third most costly health condition and has significant impacts on the economy. Unfortunately less than 10 percent of people living with chronic pain gain access to effective care, with patients facing long waiting times to multidisciplinary pain services in public hospitals.

The journey through chronic pain diagnosis, management and treatment is different for everyone. The health hackathon aims to develop an app or website to check on an individual’s health and wellbeing, encourage people to learn from others experiences and reduce isolation, because no-one should suffer alone.

Last year healthtech startups were urged by the NSW Government to come up with health driven innovations to combat mental illness. The government showed its support to the startup community through a $4 million Mental Health Innovation Fund.

There are smarter ways of combating the complexities of pain management and breaking into the intergenerational cycle of mental illness. The collaboration with communities and individuals is important to finding innovative and social impact solutions to deal, solve, manage and prevent health issues.

To coincide with the Chronic Pain Hackathon, Perth coworking space Spacecubed will be holding a two-day mental health hackathon called Mind Hack. The mental health hackathon aims to design commercialise an idea through promoting growth, change, diversity and networking.

This health hackathon will bring together multi-disciplinary communities to develop more innovative ways to treat mental health issues and spark conversation. 

An expert group of mentors will be providing entrepreneurs with key industry knowledge to help them develop and commercialise their ideas. The mentors include Dr Norman Sartorius, former director of WHO, Keith Wilson, former director of the WA Department of Health, and Kerry Hawkins, director of the WA Association of Mental Health.

According to WHO, 10 percent of the world’s population is affected by mental health issues. In Australia the annual cost of mental health is estimated to be $20 billion, which includes the cost of lost productivity and labour force participation.

People suffering with a mental disorder can experience significant distress and disability. In 2003 the Australian Bureau of Statistics identified mental disorders as the leading cause of healthy years of life lost due to disability. The number of visits to the GP for mental health reasons has increased by an average of 4.4 percent per year from 2007. This is an estimated 11.9 million additional encounters each year.

The health tech community is looking to combine medicine, preventative treatments and management solutions with technology to bring this number down and give individuals the ability to find alternative sources of treatment and management.

Image: Spacecubed. Source: Supplied