Kid-friendly health apps emerge at Boston Children’s hackathon


A playful physical therapy system that relied on the motion-tracking Kinect and an app to track inhaler use in asthmatic children were standout concepts that emerged at the the Boston Children’s Hospital hackathon last weekend.

The second annual ‘Hacking Pediatrics’ event was held at the Microsoft New England Research and Development Center and drew about 125 participants, most local, but some from as far away as Alabama and Maryland.

Michael Docktor, clinical director of innovation at Children’s founded the hackathon last year along with a team that includes Judy Wang, a co-founder of MIT’s Hacking Medicine hackathon.

After Children’s doctors pitched problems, teams organized themselves and got to work. For about 75 percent of the participants, Hacking Pediatrics was their first hackathon (for open hackathons, high numbers of first-timers is not unusual).

This year, participants had access to a suite of resources including a 3D printing bar, and the back-end APIs to apps like TigerText, a secure messaging service, and MailJet, a mail application.

The winners of last year’s hackathon created a recipe app for parents who had kids with food allergies, Docktor said. The interface allows you to create a profile of a child, “and all the recipes would refresh based on those allergies,” according to Docktor. In this last year, the team has founded a company to commercialize their idea and is in stealth mode.

The goal this year, Docktor said, was to secure the future of other promising projects.

Docktor’s favorite team built a blood pressure cuff in the shape of a kangaroo, with a pouch to hold a warming patch to keep the wearer comfortable. Lying in bed with an IV isn’t just boring for a kid who’d rather be up and about, but the tourniquet and needle can make the experience uncomfortable. The idea is to pair the cuff with an app game in which a kangaroo travels through a forested environment and hugs the friends she meets. With each hug, the tourniquet would squeeze, getting the wearer used to having it on their arm. “The kangaroo was called Olive,” Docktor said.

Images via Boston Children’s Hospital

Nidhi Subbaraman writes about science and research. Email her at
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