Author Archives: Pioneer Blog Team

The Case for Journeying to the Center of Our Social Networks

May 5, 2014, 11:07 AM, Posted by Pioneer Blog Team

Dr_James_Fowler James Fowler, Professor of Medical Genetics and Political Science at UCSD

James Fowler is Professor of Medical Genetics and Political Science at the University of California, San Diego. His work lies at the intersection of the natural and social sciences, with a focus on social networks, behavior, evolution, politics, genetics, and big data. Together with RWJF grantee Nicholas Christakis, Fowler wrote a book on social networks for a general audience called Connected.

By James Fowler

In recent weeks, much has been made of David Lazer’s finding that Google’s Flu Trends tracker seriously missed the mark in its measurement of flu activity for 2012-2013—and in previous years, too. For those who don’t know, Flu Trends monitors Google search behaviors to identify regions where searches related to flu-like symptoms are spiking.

In spite of Flu Trend’s notable misstep, Lazer still believes in the power of marrying health and social data. In discussing the results of his study, he has maintained Google Flu is “a terrific” idea—one that just needs some refining. I agree.

And, earlier this month, Nicholas Christakis, several other colleagues, and I—with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation—published a new method offering one such refinement. Our paper shows that, in a given social network (in this study’s case, Twitter), a sample of its most connected, central individuals can hold significant predictive power. We call this potentially powerful group of individuals a “sensor group.”

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A Conversation with the Health Data Exploration Project

Mar 31, 2014, 1:12 PM, Posted by Pioneer Blog Team

Runners on the beach with wearables

RWJF’s Lori Melichar and Steve Downs sat down with grantees Kevin Patrick and Jerry Sheehan who lead the Health Data Exploration project to discuss early insights from their work, shared in the recent report Personal Data for the Public Good: New Opportunities to Enrich Understanding of Individual and Population Health.”

Patrick and Sheehan are working on a team that is exploring the use of personal health data in research and how to bridge the “worlds” of individuals who track data about their own personal health, companies that develop tracking apps and devices and typically hold these data, and health researchers.

Here are highlights from their conversation:

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What's Next Health: Designing an Elegant Health Care Process

Mar 20, 2014, 8:00 AM, Posted by Pioneer Blog Team

Jay Parkinson, founder of Sherpaa Jay Parkinson, founder of Sherpaa

Each month, What’s Next Health talks with leading thinkers with big ideas about the future of health and health care. Recently, we talked with Jay Parkinson, founder of Sherpaa, who challenged us to consider what a more "beautifully designed" health care system might look like. As you'll read in his post below, Jay’s trying to do just that through his work at Sherpaa. (Jay’s opinions are not necessarily those of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.)

By Jay Parkinson

Everything great comes from an elegantly designed process. Just think of all of the experiences we love and use on a daily basis. Consider the iPhone. Apple re-imagined what a phone, or rather, a tiny computer in your pocket, could be and created a revolutionary device. Steve Jobs designed not only the interface that changed computing forever, but Tim Cook designed the manufacturing and material sourcing processes that enabled them to produce a remarkably complicated device at a relatively inexpensive price. They understood that, in order to deliver an exceptional user experience, they had to design the entire process, from the interface to the factory.

Health care was never designed. It just happened, revolving mostly around doctors’ needs and wants, in a culture that strongly believed “doctor knows best.” But our culture changed with the democratization of health information and other industries quickly evolved, raising consumers’ expectations of what health care could and should be.

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RWJF Pioneering Ideas Podcast: Episode 3 | Empathy, Choice & the Next Generation of Innovators

Mar 11, 2014, 8:00 AM, Posted by Pioneer Blog Team

Welcome to the third episode of our podcast, where we explore cutting edge ideas and emerging trends that can transform health and health care. Your host is Lori Melichar, a director at the foundation.

Ideas in this Episode

  • The science of choosing – From TV shows to health plans, Americans have more options than ever before – and we like it. But do we really? What does our relationship with choice mean for our health, and for the health care system as a whole?
  • The radical power of empathy – What happens when a health care provider actually stops and listens to a patient? How does empathy fuel innovation?
  • The next generation of health care innovators – We hear from two students at Princeton University who are studying how to apply social entrepreneurship to address global health challenges.

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One Size Doesn’t Fit All: Making Incentives Stick

Feb 14, 2014, 9:00 AM, Posted by Pioneer Blog Team

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By Emmy Ganos

I work for the country's largest foundation dedicated to health, but I have a secret. I have a huge problem staying away from my go-to comforts: macaroni and cheese, doughnuts, and most of all, the couch. I'm able to keep away from donuts most of the time, by exercising huge degrees of willpower on my way home from work each night (RIGHT PAST the Krispy Kreme). But by the time I get home, that's enough exercising for me, and I'm ready for my macaroni and my couch.

And, another secret, I barely exercise. About once a week, I walk for transportation around Philadelphia, and I walk fast. But that's the full extent of it for me. It is not uncommon for me to spend whole days on the couch -- with a great book and my cat on my lap, working on my laptop, or binge-watching HBO with my husband. I rarely exercise at work--despite free exercise classes and a free gym. 

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