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Virtual hackathon to tackle COVID-19 unmet needs
  1. William S Bolton1,
  2. Shu Ng2,
  3. Angela Lam3,
  4. James Kinch4,
  5. Victor Parchment5,
  6. William P Foster6,
  7. Manuela R Zimmermann7,
  8. Jye Quan Teh3,
  9. Abigail Simpson8,
  10. Karisma Sharma9,
  11. Ryan Kerstein10,
  12. Joshua Burke2,
  13. Stephen J Chapman2,
  14. Peter R Culmer8,
  15. David George Jayne2
  16. on behalf of the MedTech Foundation
  1. 1 Leeds Institute of Medical Research, University of Leeds School of Medicine, Leeds, UK
  2. 2 Leeds Institute of Medical Research at St James’s, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK
  3. 3 School of Clinical Medicine, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
  4. 4 Department for Research and Development, CroudThings, London, UK
  5. 5 Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
  6. 6 Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
  7. 7 Department of Chemistry, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, UK
  8. 8 School of Mechanical Engineering, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK
  9. 9 School of Medicine, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK
  10. 10 Department of Plastic Surgery, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Oxford, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr William S Bolton, Leeds Institute of Medical Research, University of Leeds School of Medicine, Leeds, UK; williambolton{at}

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Summary box

What are the new findings?

  • The COVID-19 pandemic prevented physical innovation formats and virtual innovation strategies such as the virtual hackathon proposed in this article may address this challenge.

  • Virtual interdisciplinary collaboration between students and early career professionals can lead to rapid innovations to address urgent unmet clinical needs in times of global emergencies.

How might it impact on healthcare in the future?

  • Innovation pathways should be augmented with virtual innovation strategies to break down barriers to engagement in healthcare innovation, improve global interdisciplinary collaboration and enhance rapid innovation adoption moving into the future.

  • Particular healthcare technologies likely to be positively impacted by this include those in digital health, global health and medical device sectors.


The COVID-19 pandemic has created an urgent need for healthcare innovation across the globe. In tandem, it has brought travel restrictions and social distancing measures which act as significant barriers to traditional methods of innovation. In this context, we explore the use of virtual hackathons to generate innovation during a global pandemic.

Hackathons are events which bring people from different disciplines together with the aim of solving predefined challenges through iterative innovation.1 As the name suggests, this concept emerged from computer sciences, and the model has since been adapted and used in healthcare settings.2 In healthcare hackathons, clinicians collaborate with computer scientists, engineers, physicists, biochemical scientists, industry representatives and patients to solve unmet clinical needs.3 In education, hackathons have been used to facilitate collaborative learning and promote diversity in innovative thinking.4 Hackathons are typically conducted via a large conference format and small group working over a period of hours or a small number of days.

MedTech Foundation

The MedTech Foundation is a national, interdisciplinary collaborative group that connects members from medicine and engineering to other MedTech-related specialties. The group has Hubs in six universities across the UK. These each deliver an annual educational workshop series called the …

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  • Twitter @willboltontiger, @_JoshBurke_

  • Contributors All authors contributed to the delivery of this collaborative project. WSB wrote the first draft of the manuscript, which was later edited by all authors.

  • Funding The research was supported by the NIHR Surgical MedTech Cooperative and the Virtual Hackathon was sponsored by Translate Medtech, a medical technologies innovation development programme funded by six university partners.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.