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“Hacking” health care, one case at a time

MD student group hosts case competition challenge to promote innovative thinking, problem-solving skills

Written by: Jill Stachowski, MD candidate (second-year medical student)

The High-Value Care (HVC) Student Interest Group at Penn State College of Medicine was established by medical students who participated in the Choosing Wisely STARS (Students Advocating for Resource Stewardship) program to help bring awareness of high-value care topics to the College of Medicine community. The STARS program brings together students from schools across the nation to discuss the health systems issues surrounding costs of medical care in the U.S. Students are encouraged to learn more about ways to mitigate health care costs as physicians and bring these topics back to their medical schools for greater engagement.

Since it was established in 2021, the HVC interest group at Penn State has hosted events discussing high-value care that have included the “Things We Do for No Reason” series, teaching a high-value care section within the Health Systems Science class, creating a guidebook for classes to use for assignments related to Health Systems Science, establishing the High-Value Care Physicians Award and more.

Most recently, the HVC interest group participated in a local case competition challenge in partnership with Augusta Medical College of Georgia. Winners from this local “Hackathon” competition have the opportunity to compete in the national competition that Augusta will host later this year. Last year, College of Medicine students Holden Zimmerman, Benjamin Walters, Hannah Short and Danny Glickman earned second place in the Augusta competition.

The College of Medicine HVC case competition was held virtually. Participants submitted their cases asynchronously, allowing for more flexibility in accepting presentations and for the judges to score the presentations based on their schedules. The case competition officially launched in December 2022 and wrapped up by March 1. Medical students, physician assistant and graduate students were invited to participate. Teams of two to five students were accepted into the competition. Medical students from all levels participated, creating a collaborative environment for participants.

Teams analyzed a patient case that focused on frequent hospitalizations that occurred due to exacerbations of chronic conditions for the patient. Teams were tasked with creating a presentation to identify value deficits and utilize problem solving to create solutions for these issues. Teams were graded with a standardized rubric that identified their ability to perform these tasks as well as create a succinct and interesting presentation.

Teams had a variety of solutions that included:

  • Integration of care with case management to improve communication between physicians and family,
  • Improving the medicine reconciliation process for patients through utilizing artificial technology,
  • Avoiding unnecessary diagnostic testing by being aware of the clinical course of the patient,
  • Access to health care,
  • Improving clinician team training, and
  • Utilizing education to improve the discharge process.

The seven-judge panel represented the departments of pediatrics, emergency medicine, family and community medicine, internal medicine and cardiovascular disease as well as the Office of Operational Excellence and the Health Systems Science Office. Feedback from the judges was very positive, as they enjoyed scoring the presentations and were impressed by the level of content included in the case presentations.

This year, first-year medical students Michael Huang, Courtney Landis, Xinyue Qiu and Sahil Sardesai placed first in the Hackathon. Their innovative solutions focused on utilizing paramedicine and health care at home models to improve care for patients who have many comorbid conditions and are receiving hospice care. The winning team will participate in the national competition in September 2023 – we wish them the best of luck as they represent Penn State and compete to win a $1,000 cash prize!

The HVC interest group plans to host another local competition at the end of 2023.

Anyone interested in learning about the HVC group can email Jill Stachowski at

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