Posted by: Tony Shannon | September 30, 2012

Cell Counter; NHS+HackDay; openSource+openEHR

Last weekend the NHS HackDay movement came to Liverpool, where a group of “Geeks who love the NHS” came together for the second event of its type.

This bottom up movement for change in the NHS was started by a couple of smart junior medical doctors some months ago, with the first NHS HackDay in London in May. The Liverpool event attracted another very healthy number of clinicians and developers to work together.

The format of the two day events is very much in keeping with good practice in stimulating innovation within a complex adaptive system such as healthcare.
The days start with a round of 2-minute pitches by those with ideas- they may be clinicians with ideas looking for developers or indeed developers with ideas looking for clinicians.
Those 2-minute pitches are strictly enforced, so within an hour approximately 20 very different ideas have been shared.
Then the groups disperse to network and see who comes back working with who after coffee.
Its a simple approach that flushes out the “wheat from the chaff” and allows small agile teams to form and get working together fast.
Aside from that there is little structure or planning to the event, so the best teams take a user-centred and agile approach, working to complete their hacked app as best and fast as they can, aiming for close of play on the second day.

Then the results are judged by their peers and first/second/third place awarded, with small prizes on offer.
The related code is open sourced on public code repositories.

This time around the winner was a Cell Counter app by Wai Keong Wongs team. Wai Keong is a haematologist in the NHS and one of those behind the NHS HackDay movement.

The simple but important target of Cell Counter was to replace the physical cell counters used in Haematology labs around the UK for analysing Bone Marrow specimens, similar to the illustration below. The fact that such a tool is still in action in 21st healthcare illustrates just how far behind healthcare is behind the information age…

Worth mentioning at this point, when discussing healthcare apps – the opportunity of healthcare app development raises the related risk of siloed information system development that can not interoperate.
Thankfully in addition to a clinically driven, user centred and agile design taken by the Cell Counter team, one other very important related technique was used, that is they leveraged the “archetype” concept . With the help of Dr Ian McNicholl of the openEHR Foundation, the related cell count archetype was hacked as part of the process, aiming towards the interoperable use of the app in future.

All in all, a great lesson in the future of healthcare computing. Well done to all those involved!

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