Here's what happened when Northwell Health hosted a hackathon to find tech talent at Stony Brook University

Here's what happened when Northwell Health hosted a hackathon to find tech talent at Stony Brook University

From left: Vish Anantraman, MD, chief innovation architect at Northwell Health, works with a student at Stony Brook University’s hackathon. Credit: Northwell Health

Members of New York’s Northwell Health’s information technology department participated in a three-day hackathon to see and be seen. The IT staff call this a crucial step in the recruitment of budding IT professionals in an increasingly competitive and important sector of the healthcare space.

Vish Anantraman, MD, Northwell’s chief innovation architect, led a team of about 20 IT specialists who scouted for talent as some 175 students from several colleges showcased their skills during a series of challenges involving the use of application programming interfaces and data extracts to build mini-applications from scratch in a 36-hour non-stop marathon.

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One main goal of participating in the hackathon, held at the Center of Excellence in Wireless and Information Technology at Stony Brook University from February 16-18, Anantraman said, was to identify prospective job candidates. “We get a direct peek into their talent,” by watching them work real-life tech problems, he said. 

But the perhaps more important task was to show students that IT innovation at Northwell Health is vital as a means for attracting them to the hospital as a cutting-edge, exciting place for technologists to work. 

“We have big and important tech operations with more than 1,700 people working in IT, and innovation is part of our DNA,” Anantraman said. “It’s the way we see our future. Our CEO at one point said, ‘We’re a tech company that also does healthcare.’ Northwell has one of the largest tech operations on Long Island.”

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Northwell kicked off the hackathon with a pair of challenges. The first was offering operational datasets to improve quality and cost of care delivery in a completely de-identified form, and the opportunity to students was to come up with algorithms that predict which appointments patients are likely to miss by using data about other missed appointments and weather information for the area.

The second was to use APIs to improve how clinical information is presented to doctors and nurses in ways that reduce information overload and highlight the right information at the right time.

Anantraman and his colleagues circulated through the rooms at the Center of Excellence in Wireless and Information Technology, working with teams of students, answering questions, or quizzing them about solutions.

“We were going around mentoring them about the challenges in healthcare and the technicalities of the very complex data we have,” he said.

Anantraman said participating in his first hackathon paid off, with several participants already booking interviews for summer internships. The Northwell team also came away with ideas to build on the innovations developed at the hackathon.

Stony Brook students Ankit Aggarwal, Abhinav Jain, Komal Gyanani and Yogesh Agrawal won the challenge to create a smart user interface for doctors to review patient health records while Shaan Sheikh, Lise Ho and Arjun Rao took top honors for developing a model to identify patient appointments that are likely to be missed. 

The winning teams in the Northwell challenge were each awarded $1,000 and a VIP innovation tour of the Northwell Health Center.

“They were very excited about what they wanted. This was under real-world conditions and had real problems, real challenges, rather than academic,” Anantraman said. “There was a lot of learning for me as well.”

Twitter: @SiwickiHealthIT
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