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MultiCare partners with tech industry for hackathon

Posted on Jan. 4, 2019 ( comments)
Representatives from MultiCare, Microsoft and Slalom worked together to develop two chatbots that will allow MultiCare employees and providers a new way to access analytical data.

Professionals from MultiCare’s Performance Analytics team partnered with Microsoft and tech consulting firm Slalom Nov. 28-29 for a first ever “hackathon” that will help MultiCare employees find analytical information faster and more efficiently in the future.

A hackathon is a software development term for a highly-focused event that creates a functioning product in a short amount of time. This hackathon focused on the creation of two chatbots — computer programs that interact in a manner simulating human communication. The ultimate purpose for both chatbots is to assist employees access analytical information through the Performance Analytics portal on MHSNet, MultiCare’s intranet system.

“We haven’t done anything like this before — it’s an innovative way to do business for us,” says Ann Goldman, Executive Director of Analytics and Digital Strategy for MultiCare. “The customer is the entire organization and we are working as a team to deliver an enterprise product that meets the need.”

“I’m thrilled to see our technical teams explore this kind of approach to problem solving and productivity,” says Florence Chang, MultiCare Executive Vice President and COO. “Healthcare is an increasingly complex and fast-paced sector of the economy. It challenges us to disrupt our usual ways of thinking, so that we can respond nimbly to the demands of regulators and our internal and external customers.”

Goldman says the team chose to build chatbots following a meeting with physicians about emerging technologies. The physicians were most enthusiastic about chatbots and their potential applications in health care.

“We ran with it,” she says, adding that she sees significant potential for chatbots to be used operationally. “They will help reduce friction for internal customers and allow MultiCare to leverage the latest technology.”

Three solutions engineers from Microsoft provided high-level support while three data scientists from Slalom worked hands-on with approximately 25 members of the MultiCare Performance Analytics team during the hackathon, which took place at the East Main campus in Puyallup. The team collaborated to create, train and deploy the proof-of-concept chatbots using the Azure Bot Framework and Microsoft Cognitive Services.

“The hackathon was a fun and focused way to get MultiCare’s team ramped up quickly on bot development and generate excitement for the initiative,” says Jake Bennett, Solution Principal at Slalom. “By creating a blended MultiCare, Slalom and Microsoft team to start building the bot together, MultiCare was able infuse Slalom’s digital and data science expertise and Microsoft’s deep cloud experience into their own team.”

The team used the agile software development methodology, an industry-leading approach that is known to be highly collaborative, rapid and flexible. The event was also team-based, with each member filling a specific technical role even if their day-to-day job is not in that area.

“The MultiCare team was excited to get out of their day-to-day routine to learn new innovative technologies,” says Jennifer Nguyen, App Innovation Specialist with Microsoft. “The teams applied their Azure and Bot development learnings to automate and solve problems the organization faces today. The best part was watching how each team collaborated together by relying on each other's strengths and leveraging experts from Microsoft and Slalom for guidance."

The first chatbot was designed to create a metrics library. This will allow employees to search for a metric and find the definition and related content.

“As a department we run hundreds of metrics for customers every day, anything from quality, to utilization statistics, to contract requirements,” says Goldman. “Typically, customers request a new one. The chatbot will guide them.”

By the end of the event, the metric library chatbot reached a prototype stage.

A second chatbot was designed to search for references and materials when employees create tickets, helping them to create a ticket and possibly even guiding employees to the information they need without the creation of a ticket.

This one reached a working stage by the end of the event. “It needs some polish, but it is working,” Goldman says.

Both could be implemented and available to employees in 1-2 months.

Additional use cases also came out of the hackathon, and Goldman says that lessons learned during the first event could make future ones even more productive.

“Now we know exactly how we could get one done in one day,” Goldman says.


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About The Author

Mark Swart

Mark Swart joined MultiCare Health System after retiring from Army Public Affairs at Joint Base Lewis McChord, Wa. He has extensive storytelling and communications experience from operations around the globe. Mark enjoys being active outdoors, whether it is running, sailing, motorcycling or even working in his yard.

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