Bris Hack 2024 – A Glimpse into the Future of Digital Health

Apr 17, 2024 | News

by Dr Karen Dawe, Deputy Director, Skills and Knowledge programme

“A hackathon (also known as a hack day, hackfest, datathon or codefest; a portmanteau of hacking and marathon) is an event where people engage in rapid and collaborative engineering over a relatively short period of time such as 24 or 48 hours.” – Hackathon on Wikipedia

What is digital health? Or maybe a better question is what will it be? We can try to predict innovation and trends in digital health, but it will be the next generation who build the healthcare solutions of the future.
Every year the University of Bristol’s Computer Science Society (CSS) and the Electrical and Electronic Engineering Society (BEEES) run a 24-hour Hackathon. Each Hackathon has a different theme and, as if further proof were needed that the future of health is digital, this years’ theme was health.

A can of Red Bull and a pen on top of a sheet of lined paper containing sketches and handwritten text.

With a plethora of skills ranging from coding and UI to mechanical engineering and maths, the participants were well-equipped to tackle the multifaceted aspects of health-related challenges. The goal was to not only showcase technical expertise but also to create solutions with real-world applications.
The projects were varied but some clear trends emerged.


A surprising number of the hack projects involved building a community. Hackers spoke about using social comparison, competitiveness, support, and accountability to drive changes in health behaviours. One group (winners in the “wearable” category) built a web app to help people quit vaping. By building a basic circuit with the vape itself, information about vape use gets sent to a leaderboard that could be linked with friends to encourage you all to quit.

“…there’s a community. So you can connect with friends, stay accountable, support each other, and also compete” – Josh

Gamification – what do retro pixel games have to do with health?

Leveraging our competitive nature to make us healthier was also seen in several other projects involving some kind of gamification. Another winner (in the “creative” category) recreated the Flappy Bird and the Chrome Dinosaur Game. In these new health-conscious versions, the games track your body position using a laptop webcam. You’ve got to actually move around to control the sprite.

Pixel dinosaur character from Google T-Rex Runner game

“The options are jumping, squatting. This is aimed at teens, to improve fitness and promote activity. The user just has to stand in front of the computer, and the movements get turned into a game. All powered by squatting and jumping” – Abhinav

A clear trend for making the experience of being healthy more enjoyable was emerging. And if gaming for health isn’t your thing, then maybe a musical accompaniment will help you along your health journey.


Two of the 6 winning projects made use of integration with Spotify to create playlists for health. The winner in the software category created a Spotify playlist for you from your liked songs, based on the length and intensity of a run. The “People’s Choice” winner was a project that used AI chatbot to determine your mood with mental health questions, and depending on your choices it suggests songs.

Turning health data into easily digestible information

The basic mechanism for a lot of these projects was repackaging of existing, publicly available health data, into something the user can understand and act on. One project was focused on helping the user improve their nutritional intake by analysing food beyond the calories.

“I’m talking about food, general health, and health beyond the calories. The app actually breaks it down into nutrients and tell you what you need more of. For example have you had enough iron? Do you need more calcium?” – Emma

Another project, a wearable, measured your UV exposure over the course of a day. Using GPS and linked to weather data, it can give recommendations for getting more or less sunshine.

Laptop screen showing website with text 'How Healthy is your Postcode?' on a green banner and a red graphic with a score of 4.7.

Eva and Ashby tackled the issue of health inequality. Their idea was for a website that can pull in information and health data from multiple sources using just your postcode. Information like how far is your nearest GP? What’s the life satisfaction like in your area? Is it above or below the average for the country you’re in?

The winner in the mental health category aimed to reduce anxiety by using local crime data from Bristol City Council to help the user plan safer journeys.
Projects that worked because they repackaged health information took lots of data, gave it a nice interface, and communicated information in a way the user can understand, and make use of to make healthier choices.

Projects That Inspire Change

What’s notable about most of the projects at BrisHack 2024 is that they target health behaviours, not health conditions or disease. Whether it’s through gamification, music, or user-friendly communication of information, most projects are squarely aimed at changing some health-related behaviour by improving the experience of being healthy and making healthy decisions. That might be your nutritional intake, your vaping activity, your UV exposure, or your fitness level. These are all health-related behaviours that are, to some extent, able to be changed.

What is needed for digital solutions to address medical needs?

Hackathons like these clearly demonstrate how much talent there is to be applied to creating the health technology of the future. It’s also clear that a key trend in digital health will be preventative medicine – helping people stay healthy to avoid problems in the future, using technology to drive healthy behaviours.

But the gap between the unmet needs of those with medical conditions and health technology might take longer to close. And it’s likely that this is simply driven not by the problems in medicine, but by the experience and expertise of the technologists working in this area. This is a key reason why the LEAP Digital Health Hub exists – to close the gap between the skills and knowledge of those in digital and those in health.

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