The Challenge: Exploit Health Data, Create Innovative Apps

Organizations like Walgreens, Aetna, and the National Cancer Institute are pushing developers to use government data to help improve the nation's health.

Nicole Lewis, Contributor

June 13, 2011

4 Min Read

12 Innovative Mobile Healthcare Apps

12 Innovative Mobile Healthcare Apps

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Slideshow: 12 Innovative Mobile Healthcare Apps

The drive to exploit the rich treasure-trove of information that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has in its data vaults took another step forward at last week's second Health Data Initiative Forum, where nearly a dozen new initiatives to use federally supplied health data to help improve the nation's health were announced.

Among these initiatives were the public and private sponsorship of new "challenges" to develop data-powered solutions that help improve health, including challenges issued by Walgreen's Pharmacy, the Aetna Foundation, Sanofi-Aventis, and the National Cancer Institute.

"As a health services researcher, I understand all too well that the best health data in the world can't be used to improve people's lives if there aren't the right tools to make useful analyses of the data possible," Anne Beal, president of the Aetna Foundation, said in a statement.

In partnership with Health 2.0, the Aetna Foundation has issued a Developer Challenge to solicit new interactive browser-based applications designed to make important federal data about obesity and related data sets more accessible and usable for health services researchers, public health officials, policy makers, and other leaders in the fight against obesity. Aetna is offering $50,000 in prize money for the three best applications that come out of the challenge.

"Now that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is making so much health data available through its open health data initiative, we want to ensure that our colleagues, particularly those working to reduce obesity, have robust applications to help them access that data and use it in their work to stem this epidemic," Beal said.

Another data challenge has been issued by Walgreens, which announced a Health Guide Challenge.

According to Walgreens, the goal is to transform the role of the community pharmacy by developing a Health Guide position, which will act as a navigator to provide hands-on support in obtaining meaningful and actionable data relevant to a given consumer's health needs.

The challenge for application developers is to create an application and supported Web service that would present aggregated HHS data to consumers and Health Guides based upon a disease condition, topic, and/or location. The Health Guide and/or consumers would use this tool to provide information and resources about a specific topic of interest or disease state. Walgreens is offering $25,000 for the top app, $5,000 for second place, and $3,000 for third.

The Forum, co-hosted by HHS and the Institute of Medicine (IoM), was held at the National Institutes for Health in Bethesda, Md., and featured more than 45 new or updated applications that harness the power of HHS and other federal data, including statistics from the Environment Protection Agency. EPA administrator, Lisa Jackson, announced her agency's new effort to encourage innovators to leverage EPA data to help power useful solutions for the public.

In her statement, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius said the Health Data Initiative Forum demonstrates HHS's commitment to promoting innovative uses of data to advance health and health care in America.

"This initiative is helping consumers take control of their own health and health care by putting the right information at their fingertips, helping doctors and hospitals deliver better and safer care, helping employers promote health and wellness, helping mayors and county commissioners make better-informed decisions that improve the health of communities," Sebelius said.

Additional key announcements made at the forum included:

-- The University of Michigan unveiled the nation's first graduate program to focus on consumer health informatics.

-- the launch of StartUp Health, a new seed accelerator/entrepreneur academy in New York City aimed at developing new health and wellness startups. Former Time Warner CEO Jerry Levin will serve as chairperson of StartUp Health.

-- ESRI's release of a new public community health analytics tool called Community Analyst.

-- The upcoming "invent-a-thon" focused on developing nursing homes of the future, hosted by Johns Hopkins University and the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance.

-- Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, announced a new consortium to support the health data ecosystem.

"HHS is extremely excited about the progress that is being made by the many companies, entrepreneurs, and organizations that are here today contributing to the evolution of a vibrant health data ecosystem." Todd Park, chief technology officer at HHS, said in a statement.

Launched last year, the Health Data Initiative brings public and private sector organizations together to find innovative ways to extract HHS' data and to share that data online with technology companies, researchers, health advocates, the media, and others. The information can be used to create new datasets, compare data models, and provide richer actionable information that could have a wide impact on public health policy as well as personal health choices.

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