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Ph. D. student’s application receives two awards at Detroit Hacking Health hackathon

Hacking Health

Paula Lauren (fourth from left) competed at Hacking Health in Detroit last month, and received awards for her group’s app, “CarePRN.”

June 23, 2015 – By Oakland University

For Paula Lauren, Oakland University Computer Science and Informatics Ph.D. student, work time is often solitary and intense.

But when she recently attended Windsor—Detroit Hacking Health — a hackathon programming competition focused on the healthcare industry, and the first one to be hosted “cross-border,” five minutes from Windsor in Techtown Detroit — she said she enjoyed working together in a team and creating something that can help others.

“The whole (hackathon) experience was very intense and exciting,” Lauren said.

“I’m a Ph.D. student and doctorate work is a lonely and laborious process. For example, it has taken me months to implement a complicated machine learning algorithm and a lot of time is often spent alone. I was expecting to meet new people and work collaboratively on solving a problem by the end of the weekend, which is what actually happened.”

The projects had to be something to improve the healthcare system, “by inviting technology creators and healthcare professionals to collaborate on realistic, human-centric solutions to front-line problems,” according to the Hacking Health website.

Students pitched their ideas, and teams were formed at the beginning of the weekend. After getting together, the teams had under 48 hours to work together to develop their application to get it ready for judging.

“The biggest challenge in a hackathon is time management,” Lauren said. “If you think about it, understanding and solving a business problem with a technical solution in 24 to 48 hours is far from realistic. In fact, it’s absurd that we were determined to create a production-ready system in such a short time frame. Perhaps, it’s the ambiance of a hackathon that makes you let go of what’s practical and shoot for the impossible. “

Lauren’s group’s application, CarePRN, which she said “leverages the Uber model for caregivers in home healthcare,” bringing caregivers and careseekers together for providing instantaneous and scheduled care as needed.

“The suffix of PRN in CarePRN stands for ‘Pro re nata” which is Latin for ‘as the situation demands,’” Lauren said. “Especially with the proliferation of Mobile Health, nursing homes are transitioning to enabling elders to stay in their home which is also known as aging-in-place.”

According to Lauren, the app has potential for regular use, and with the constant growth in Mobile Health there’s a lot of data that’s going to be generated especially with the proliferation of home healthcare sensors that’s making it safer for elders to stay at home.

“The knowledge that I’ve acquired in the OU computer science and informatics program has certainly provided me with an excellent foundation in predictive analytics for handling the deluge of sensor data,” Lauren said.

Her group received the “Best Student Team from the U.S.” and the “People’s Choice Award” for the app.

While in-class learning is important, Lauren said hackathons are an enjoyable and fulfilling experience, because they provide a unique, real-world perspective in application development.

“Hackathons require you to get comfortable with discomfort very quickly,” Lauren said.

“There’s a real-life problem, and hackathons will definitely put your technical, people and organizational skills to the test. It’s really an incredible learning experience and a lot of fun. But forget the awards and prizes. I don’t think that students should participate in a hackathon just for that because there’s an even greater reward. When you feel like you’ve pushed yourself beyond your own limitations and delivered beyond your own expectations, that is the greatest feeling in the world.”

For more information about the Computer Science and Informatics program, visit

Valérie DoréPh. D. student’s application receives two awards at Detroit Hacking Health hackathon