ArthritisHack: Innovate, Empower & Inspire

© The Arthritis Society

We talk a lot about empowering people who live with chronic illness, such as arthritis, to get to a place where they can live better lives and get better care. This weekend, I was thrilled to participate as a mentor in ArthritisHack at the MaRS Discovery District here in Toronto. The event brought together designers, programmers, health professionals, policy analysts and the people who have lived experience with these conditions to create something spectacular. ArthritisHack was hosted by The Arthritis Society, sponsored by Lilly, and produced by Hacking Health.

On Friday evening, teams pitched their ideas and then spent the rest of the weekend putting it together and, I suspect, drinking a lot of coffee. Mentors signed up for one or more sessions of three hours. Our job was to roam between the teams, offering encouragement, guidance, and every now and again challenge an idea so it could be finetuned and improved.

The Arthritis Society had also provided a way that participants could experience what it’s like to have arthritis. As someone who lives with RA, watching healthy people trying my disease on for size was both moving and made my heart hurt.

I’d signed up for the Saturday morning session and I’m not going to lie to you. I was exhausted. I’ve had a busy month and a half, a really busy week, and getting up at 7 AM was hard.

And then I got there and forgot all about being tired.

Talking to these teams was inspiring and invigorating. It felt like getting plugged into a live wire that enabled you to think outside the box and subsist only on excitement.

(Okay, I did bring snacks and while I’m on that topic. Thank you so much to the organizers for providing nut free treats and making sure all ingredients were listed on food containers!)

I talked to people who wanted to design websites and apps and being there right on the ground floor where the first ideas are batted around was fantastic. So often, products, programs, and policies related to healthcare seek consultation with people who live with health conditions — i.e., the end-user — after the fact. This results in products, programs, and policies that often are unwieldy, hard to use, or don’t reflect the realities of having a chronic illness or using a particular health care system.

© The Arthritis Society

It is essential that we are part of the conceptualization of what we and others like us will be using to create a better life for themselves and have a better experience with the healthcare system. Being part of ArthritisHack showed what is possible when the process is turned on its head.

Shooting for the moon. It was amazing.

The top three teams will receive prizes that may help them develop their idea. I’m glad I wasn’t on the jury — it would’ve been way too hard to select among all the fantastic projects in that room. I do hope the other teams will also have an opportunity to make their projects into reality.

Thank you so much to The Arthritis Society, Lilly, and Hacking Health for making this day happen.


Kaz said…
Wow, Lene - that sounds like the most amazing experience. I'd love to see that kind of thing happening here!

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