MIT Hacking Medicine group forms nonprofit to tackle digital health efficacy

By Jonah Comstock
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Participants in MIT's 2014 Hackathon with MGH and Samsung. Participants in MIT's 2014 Hackathon with MGH and Samsung.

MIT's Hacking Medicine program, which has organized medical hackathons since 2011, has launched a new spin-off: the Hacking Medicine Institute, a 501c3 nonprofit with a slightly different mission. The new organization will assess whether digital health products and services really work and, if they do, help them to prove their efficacy to consumers, doctors, and insurers.

“There’s so much hype now,” Zen Chu, MIT senior lecturer and faculty director of Hacking Medicine told the Wall Street Journal last week. “It’s great, in a way. It’s early stages, and there are so many startup companies. But they’re all having the same trouble. What’s actually working, and how do you prove that?”

The new group, which was announced at BIO in Philadelphia last week, will be more of a think tank than a hackathon. MIT will bring together a number of stakeholders, including pharmaceutical and medical-device companies, policymakers, hospital administrators, doctors, insurance companies, self-insured employers and various digital health companies, Chu told the Journal. The institute will develop whitepapers that give guidance on evaluating digital health programs, and they will evaluate some interventions themselves.

The first invite-only working groups will begin meeting in Cambridge, Massachusetts in October. The invite list might include GE Ventures and Stanford Health Care joint venture Evidation Health, according to the WSJ report. This makes sense because Evidation's mission lines up closely with the Hacking Medicine Institute's mission.

According to a statement issued when it launched in March, Evidation is “focused on generating real-world clinical and economic evidence for digital health products and platforms” by combining “health outcomes data with new approaches to predictive analytics to identify and deploy the most effective and efficient patient management strategies and interventions.” In other words Evidation hopes to help separate which digital health technologies actually work from those that don’t and are just coasting on hype. Evidation has since partnered with companies like MedHelp and PokitDok.

Other invitees could include healthcare stakeholders MIT has worked with in the past through its hackathons. That list includes PatientsLikeMe, Pfizer, WebMD, Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Tufts University Medical Center, Samsung, and athenahealth to name a few.