Food Pharmacy App Wins at HackTJ!

March 22, 2023 by Kimberly Boucher, MSHS, BSN, RN & Chaya Merrill, DrPH

Our participation in HackTJ was a big success! A few weeks ago we shared with you via a blog post that Children’s National was a sponsor of HackTJ: a student-run hackathon where aspiring high school coders have 24 hours to apply their coding skills, working with fellow students, to build innovative apps addressing a wide range of issues. Hosted by a local public STEM school, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, HackTJ is an annual hackathon open to all current high school students. Children’s National not only sponsored HackTJ, we submitted an idea for an app that could us streamline and extend the benefits of our hospital’s Food Pharmacy program. Truthfully, we had no idea what to expect of this event – but, HackTJ exceeded our expectations.

For a bit of background, Children’s National hosted Part 1 of a “Health Equity Hackathon” in September 2023. We asked researchers and advocates to “think big” about how technology, specifically apps, can help address health equity.  Of the 17 impressive applications we received, 3 were selected to compete for first place…and the winner was:

Food Pharmacy App

The “Food Pharmacy App” will streamline the current paper-based process that families in our Diabetes clinic use to receive food at the hospital’s food bank. The app will allow families to log food preferences, update contact information, have the ability to put a delivery/pickup on hold, reschedule, or disenroll, and to provide real time feedback to the Children’s National team.

We worked with HackTJ to bring this app to life! On the weekend of March 4th, several folks from Children’s National attended HackTJ to conduct a workshop, be mentors, and serve as judges. Children’s Food Pharmacy app team showed up big sending several team members to the event to help guide and inspire the students. The hackers did not have to choose to develop the Food Pharmacy app idea as it was submitted.  Several groups used the idea for spin-off projects while they learned more about Type 1 diabetes, the importance of nutrition, and how it affects children.  However, one stellar team decided to design the Food Pharmacy App as it was envisioned.  Over a 24-hour period, Kedar Prasad, Pranav Kuppa, Deven Hagen, and Alan Zhu built a functioning app, called “DiaCare”, that won first place as the Best Mobile Hack! The students reached out for direction on the vision for the app and continued to communicate throughout the afternoon for clarity and guidance, which resulted in a base product with a management portal and the ability to be expanded as the Food Pharmacy grows. They will continue to work with Children’s National to enhance the app with features that could not be configured in the 24-hour hacking period. This event was mutually beneficial to HackTJ and Children’s National Hospital – summed up well by Sanika Kale and Ananya Pamal, two of the HackTJ student organizers:

HackTJ was thrilled to connect with Children’s National this year. The Children’s National representatives who came to present workshops, mentor students, and judge projects were super friendly and supported the entire HackTJ team, making the entire experience amazing. We truly benefited from their presence at our event and are excited to see what next year brings!

From our hospital’s perspective, HackTJ certainly gave us a jumpstart on developing an app that has the potential of addressing health equity by making access to healthy food more equitable while also giving us the opportunity to bring awareness to Type 1 Diabetes. Some of the nation’s brightest minds gathered at HackTJ – we were able to impress on these students the “human side” of coding. We hope to be involved in future HackTJ events!

About the author

Kimberly Boucher, MSHS, BSN, RN

Clinical Research Manager within the Endocrinology Department at Children's National Hospital

Chaya Merrill, DrPH

Director of Child Health Data Lab within the Child Health Advocacy Institute at Children's National Hospital