Code Hack 2024: Cutting-edge Collaboration to Improve Care

A passion to prevent blindness among at-risk and marginalized groups turned out to be doubly successful at Island Health’s Code Hack 2024 event – and in doing so highlighted the value of innovation in health care.
The “hackathon,” held March 8-10 at the Royal Jubilee Hospital (RJH) campus in Victoria, joined Island Health staff and medical staff with patients, students, industry experts, coders, builders, designers and others. This was the fourth Code Hack since its inception in 2019.

For 24 hours, nearly 70 participants collaborated on innovative solutions to a range of health-care challenges. At the end of the weekend, final pitches were made and the top three projects selected by a panel of judges. 

This year’s $1,500 first prize went to Team Zero Blindness, which focused on preventing blindness among vulnerable populations, including First Nations, with treatable conditions such as diabetic retinopathy.
Their project proposed the development of easy-to-use “eyeHealth” kits that could be sent anywhere from rural and remote locations to urban community centres. The kits include a Bluetooth-connected headset that scans a patient’s eyes, with the data uploaded via an app to specialists for follow up. If needed, a care plan is then co-created by the patient and their ophthalmologist. 


Pictured: Team Zero Blindness

Team Zero Blindness also received the People’s Choice award, which is voted on by Code Hack participants. The initial idea for the project came from Dr. Hamza Khan, an ophthalmologist. “I’ve been on staff with Island Health for over 20 years and I’ve had the opportunity to see a lot of people with vision loss, some of whom could have been picked up earlier and treated,” he says.

This was the first time that Dr. Khan attended Code Hack, an experience that he described as “invigorating.” “It’s a long event and you’d expect it to be draining. But it’s very exciting to be in the room with such talented people,” he says. “I was really impressed with the quality of all the presentations.”  

Second place and $1,000 went to Team Fenta-Nil, which pitched a discrete, easy-to-use device that rapidly detects fentanyl in substances. The idea originated with Anthon Shamapto, who studied biomedical engineering at the University of Victoria and is a field application specialist with Cellink, a biotech company.

“Working with a diverse group of doctors, allies and even a high school student helped me to see the bigger picture and understand that Fenta-Nil is more than just a handheld device,” says Shamapto, who attended Code Hack for the second time. “It's a potential life-saving measure building on the current fentanyl strip detection technology.”

Fenta-Nil team member Alyssa Foote, who is pursuing her next role as a health-care data professional, says she would “definitely” recommend the Code Hack experience to others. “I really appreciate that there is a local health-focused hackathon that is open to the public,” she notes. “Networking is the key to progressing your career, it helps immensely. And this is a great place to network. You never know what doors you’re going to open.”

Team Next was awarded third place and $750 for their project to improve communications between care providers and patients in emergency departments. Their approach included wristbands for patients to track updates on their care and wait-times, provided by an app and waiting room screens.


Pictured: Team Zero Blindness, Team Fenta-Nil and Team Next

Where feasible, Island Health’s Innovation Lab will offer support to the winning projects through its equipment and expertise. Altogether, 12 teams vied for Code Hack glory in 2024. 

“I thought it was fantastic. It was really great to see such an engaged group of people,” says Dr. Michelle Weizel, Island Health’s executive medical director for medical and academic affairs, and a first-time Code Hack judge. “The quality of the presentations was really good and I learned a lot.”

Dr. Weizel also underscored the importance of innovation. “I’m a huge believer in it,” she says. “We’re at a huge precipice of change in health care. Innovation will happen to us, or we’ll be involved in developing it – one or the other. And I think the more involved we are, from the frontline up, the easier the change will be.” 

Ben Vorst, one of those frontline workers, participated in Code Hack for the second year in a row. Vorst, a patient porter at RJH and paramedic for BC Emergency Health Services, worked on a project about resuscitation and end-of-life education for patients. 

“We have sharp minds in lots of places within Island Health. If you reach out to people, you’ll find out there are steel-trap minds, analytical thinking, systems analysis – and not just from experience,” he says. “Some of it comes from their own innate talents, some of it they’ve learned being on the job, seeing problems that persist and being passionate about problems to solve. They just need the avenue.”

The event was supported by several community partners, including Circle Innovation, a non-profit organization focused on health-care technology. “Code Hack was a great opportunity for Circle Innovation to participate at the ground level with patients, clinicians, technologists and designers to stimulate innovative thinking and solutions for BC health care,” says Loki Jörgenson, Circle’s senior director of innovation and strategy. “As a non-profit, we build relationships between stakeholders, which is key to health-care innovation. And that’s exactly what Code Hack delivered. We’re already looking forward to next year!”
Other partners included Camosun College, Nanaimo & District Hospital Foundation, University of Victoria, the Centre for Interprofessional Clinical Simulation Learning, Good Earth Coffeehouse, Telus and Victoria Hospitals Foundation.

Code Hack 2024 also featured the invaluable contributions of about 25 volunteers – some of whom came from Island Health’s Step Up Youth Program

“Part of what made this a great Code Hack was that we had a really young demographic. Some of our presenters were from high school,” says Matthew Miller, a co-founder of the event and Island Health’s director of brand, digital engagement and innovation. “So we’re getting young people with good ideas, influencing and being influenced by those who have been in the health-care system for decades. 

“I saw really interesting mentoring going on – everyone was leaning into our C.A.R.E. values of respect and empathy, understanding where everyone else was coming from.”

Innovation is a key priority for Island Health, and involves translating the input and ingenuity of our staff, physicians, partners and patients into new ideas and solutions that address health-care challenges and improve people’s lives. Examples of innovation in action include Code Hack, sensor trials at Island Health washrooms that monitor for toxic drug poisonings, enhanced accessibility features for the future Cowichan District Hospital and the Cognitive Health Initiative, a visionary project focused on research and care for patients living with cognitive health issues.