Hackathon Recap Interview with Dr. Chang

This is an interview of Dr. Michael Chang of the Scarborough Health Network (SHN) who partnered with WIMTACH for the first October hackathon and provided the challenge to students on Oct. 17 and 18. This interview was edited for clarity and length.

WMITACH: How did you learn about WIMTACH?

Dr. Chang: My name is Dr. Michael Chang. I am the division head of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery at the Centenary site for the Scarborough Health Network (SHN). The way I got into contact with Pouria was that I gave presentation for one of our research studies at the Centenary site in SHN where we were doing a study to see whether or not virtual reality (VR) can help to alleviate anxiety in pre-operative paediatric patients. WIMTACH was also at that event [at Holland-Bloorview Centre] and then we connected. That’s where Purnima (Director of WIMTACH) approached me and we connected. She told me about the hackathons that WIMTACH has and from there, we corresponded back and forth. Finally, we got together and here we are doing a hackathon.

WIMTACH: When was that event?

Dr. Chang: I believe it was in June of this year with Shaftesbury (WIMTACH industry partner). Shaftesbury are the ones that are supporting our VR study at Centenary Hospital for the paediatric patients.

WIMTACH: What is the hackathon challenge today?

Dr. Chang: As an otolaryngologist head and neck surgeon, one of my main focuses is doing thyroid surgery. Thyroid is very common in Ontario. At SHN, we do about 300 per year. The incidences of thyroid cancer continues to increase and so we do a lot of thyroid surgeries. We become good at it. Most of the risk and complications that are associated with thyroid surgery we have mitigated such as nerve injury, hoarseness, bleeding and infection, with a lot of studies. Other issues become lower on the priority list. One of the things we tend to ignore is the neck pain becomes associated with thyroid surgery. During their surgery, the patient has to have their neck in hyperextension and this causes a lot of stress on the C-spine and the posterior neck. Up to 80% of patients complain of post-operative sore neck, headaches and shoulder pain. So, the challenge is to produce a device that will maximize inter-operative neck hyperextension but also improve the patient’s neck support and protection during the operation.

WIMTACH: What about WIMTACH’s description of a hackathon told you that this was the best way to find a solution to this industry problem?

Dr. Chang: When I spoke to Purnima, she spoke about this hackathon and it sounded very intriguing. What I like about this is that on a day-to-day basis, when I do these surgeries I do things routinely. This is just the way I’ve been doing it; I do hundreds of surgeries every year. I do them the same way. I think it’s great to get different perspectives and fresh minds and fresh eyes on a subject to look at things from outside the box from a different perspective. I think the way they collaborate on hackathons where they have students from different disciplines is a fantastic way to cross-pollinate and to see if there are any innovative and creative ways to improve our patients’ outcomes.

WIMTACH: What has been your experience at the hackathon so far? What’s been interesting, exciting etc.?

Dr. Chang: The most interesting thing has been the enthusiasm of the students. They’re really keen and eager. They have really become engaged in this project. The solutions they’ve been coming up with as I’ve been walking around the tables are things that I would absolutely not think about. It shows that because they’re coming from so many different backgrounds, they bring a new perspective on something that I do routinely. I’m excited to see what’s going to happen. One of these ideas could eventually germinate and sprout into something huge.

WIMTACH: What do you hope to see in the presentations? Where do you hope these solutions go?

Dr. Chang: So far what I’m seeing is really inspiring. They are truly thinking outside of the box, specifically my box that I’m in. It actually inspires me to also consider things from an outside perspective. Sometimes, you get so ingrained in doing the same routine thing over and over again; it’s great to get this perspective. I hope that one day, perhaps one of these ideas perhaps involves into something greater that can help the greater good.

WIMTACH: Are there any highlights/favourite moments that have happened so far?

Dr. Chang: I’m just amazed at all the backgrounds of the students. They’re from all around the world and they’ve all been attracted to come here to participate in hackathon by WIMTACH. In fact, one of the participants is actually a medical doctor from Mexico and who wants to become an otolaryngologist and I would’ve never have guessed that would’ve happened! Who would’ve ever known? He’s a doctor from Mexico and he wants to do what I do! I’ve been talking to him and trying to help him figure out the best way to do that. It’s amazing how when people come together, these connections can be made. This is a very rare opportunity, but I think it’s an opportunity that I’m grateful for. You never know, maybe one day he’ll be my colleague; maybe he’ll be operating on me one day, taking my thyroid out. I don’t know. I’d like to make sure that we get the most of this meeting.

WIMTACH: If you were to recommend hackathons to your colleagues, what would you say to them?

Dr. Chang: I would say to go in with an open mind. We’re all creatures of habit – we go to our office, see our patients and go to the operating room. This is an opportunity to step outside the box and see what else is happening. You never know what can come of this. I’m excited to see what happens in the future.

WIMTACH: [Asked after the presentations] What was your experience at the hackathon now that you’ve seen the presentations?

Dr. Chang: The presentations that the students came up with were very, very innovative and creative. The designs were very inspired. It was difficult to choose a winner. All the ideas that came from this collaboration. I like the fact that it was multi-disciplinary, that they had multiple disciplines that were represented. I found that they really worked together for a common goal. I’m just amazed at how these guys just work outside the box to come up with some very novel and creative solutions and just things that I would’ve never come up with.

Oct, 30, 2019