Monday, 26 May 2014

NHS Hackathon

I've just had an awesome weekend of awesome. Honourable mention in the NHS hackday, won a t-shirt and surgical book, and was a far cooler bank holiday weekend than...for instance...playing in the sun. I met lots of awesome people, and if anyone wants to see the presentation it is here over at google docs

And a video of it (skip to 11:45)

We were an honourable mention (the first honourable mention, which I count as runner up ;) and I have a team photo (as well as other photos of the day) here.
(Edit - I'm putting in here a better discription of what we did - apologies, I've spent too long staring at medical textbooks and not long enough writing creatively)

Hackathons are a day where all manner of people (programmers, business managers, mathematicians etc) get together to discuss problems and find solutions. In this case, I got attached to a group of programmers who were looking for possible uses of a Leap Motion device  ( The device uses infra red to detect the position of the palm of the hand and all five fingers and records the position.

Working with the team over the weekend, we discovered how it could be used to measure tremors in the hand. Amongst the possibilities this opens, it can be used to objectively record a patient's progression over time, whether it is monitoring a disease such as Parkinsons, assessing the effect of medication or rehabilitative physiotherapy. So far as I am aware, there is no clinical objective measure on the severity of tremor, there only seems to be approximations based on quality of life measures.

The possibilities of what we created seem colossal, and I was excitedly talking to other clinicians about how neurological diseases could be monitored, and how GPs, on seeing a new patient can exactly track the extent of a disease, or when transferring patients around a hospital, a doctor can look at a graph and see instantly the extent of a patient's tremor.

It opens possibilities for further subdividing tremors which currently consist of "does it interfere with a patient's life or not", and (excitingly) it may uncover new types of tremor to subdivide existing disease classifications, discover new syndromes, and find ways to assess the early onset of conditions.


  1. A random list of clinical applications as I think of them
    - Effect of deep brain stimulation
    - Recovery from brachial plexus/spinal trauma
    - Monitoring progression of Parkinsons/Huntingdons (in terms of decline or medication)
    - Detecting early onset of such diseases
    - Efficacy of physiotherapy
    - Hyperthyroidism (and quantify advantages of Thyroidectomy vs thyroid reducing drugs)
    - Monitoring narcotic withdrawal (drug, alcohol, tobacco...even coffee?)
    - Detecting placebo induced tremor

  2. Hello Fraser, congratulations on some excellent work over the weekend. I was at the last hack day, so I understand the energy and vibe that you have experienced! It is quite something ;)

    You are ahead of me with the thyroid connection, I'm a thyroid doctor amongst other things, so it would be wonderful to collaborate.

    I know of Rob's work in the open source world and I was also having some ideas about healthcare professionals controlling elements of the EPR with gestures.

    Everyone agrees that most health care professionals Will not go beyond a single click to accomplish a task- maybe gestures offer a way past this block?

    I've connected with you through Google+, are you on twitter? Me = swelldiabetes

    Once again congratulations on all that you and the team achieved, and on a wonderful write up as well


  3. Thank you very much, and thyroid was just a random thought, so I hope I've not leapt too far ahead and your input there would be invaluable.

    I found you on Twitter. Mine is #Fraser_ThomsonY...probably should have chosen a better name, but I was young and innocent

  4. On the matter of thyroids, one of the thoughts I had was how much of a tremor might correlate to, say, TSH levels. Is that something you've come across much? I know that hyperactivity is a symptom (although I gather it doesn't always present).

    Apologies for my lack of knowledge, I'm currently in my first year and the thyroid was several modules ago.

  5. Thanks Fraser, we are now connected on twitter.

    In my endocrine clinic, the medical students have more tremor and lid retraction than my thyrotoxic patients ;)

    I have skin in the game as well, I have a moderate benign postural tremor (I would not have made it as a surgeon), & I don't help matters with my caffeine intake.

    If you're not too busy with exams, maybe a Google hangout could be a good way to discuss?


  6. That would be good. This week is strokes, and very busy (being a bank holiday its now squashed into 4 days - you know how it is) but hopefully at the weekend.