This past fall, Millsaps College seniors Vajresh Balaji and Bineyam Tsegaye traveled to Baltimore to compete in the MedHacks "hackathon" at Johns Hopkins Medical Center and walked away with a win.
MedHacks is the world's largest medical hackathon, attracting hundreds of students and healthcare professionals from all across the globe. Participants were challenged to develop solutions in three different areas of healthcare: patient safety and quality, community health infrastructure, and health equity. After working tirelessly for 36 hours, teams presented to a panel of judges to have their projects assessed. Balaji and Tsegaye formed a team with three other students, one from the University of Florida and two from the University of Maryland at Baltimore County.
"It was interesting to interact with other students who are similar to us, whether in a math or coding background, and we were able to learn a lot," reflected Balaji.
The competition pushed the students to finds ways to work cooperatively toward a solution.
"I have less experience when it comes to coding, and I thought it would be a problem when it came to contributing," Tsegaye said. "But, everyone was very nice and helpful and there was always a way to contribute." He explained that his main role was to weed through existing research papers to find an equation which would suit what they were working on, while Balaji worked on developing the software.
Balaji and Tsegaye's project is entitled The Herd. It is a web application geared toward individuals and organizations, and displays herd immunization rates for specific regions. The program Balaji wrote would extract the date, the vaccine, and score each person individually on whether their vaccines were still working. This gave them a health score related to immunizations, plotted them on a map, and gave them herd immunity scores.
The Herd uses a database of patient records including information about the vaccination record of each patient in order to calculate the rates of herd immunity for a specific region selected by the user. Display of the information differs based on whether the user is an individual or an organization. For individuals, the app could help them personally be aware of the immunization rates in their neighborhood. For organizations, the app provides them access to more information that allows for optimization of both time and money with respect to advocacy efforts.
When it came time for judging, The Herd received the Innovation Award. Previous recipients of this particular award have gone on to receive venture capital funding and are now major companies, though Balaji and Tsegaye will be putting any future development on hold at the moment. "We are open to developing, but going to the hackathon was more for the competition aspect of the experience," said Balaji. Once they leave Millsaps, both Balaji and Tsegaye plan to enter the workforce for a few years before pursuing graduate school.