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Congratulations to the Winners of Innovations for Health: Solutions that Cross Borders!

Apr 16, 2012, 4:40 AM, Posted by Pioneer Blog Team

Today at the World Health Care Congress, RWJF Assistant Vice President, Research and Evaluation, Brian Quinn announced the winners of the Innovations for Health: Solutions that Cross Borders competition, supported by Pioneer and Ashoka ChangemakersInnovations for Health looked to the international health community for forward-facing, transformative ideas with the potential to change health and medicine here in the United States.

We wanted to find cutting-edge solutions from anywhere in the world that have the potential to be applied in other countries to improve health and health care. While the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is devoted to improving the health and health care of Americans, this competition arises from what we call our “Flat World” work. That is the name we’ve given to our efforts that look around the world for innovations that could be used to solve the health and health care challenges we’re facing here in the United States.

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Meet the Innovations for Health Competition Finalists!

Mar 19, 2012, 3:19 AM, Posted by Pioneer Blog Team

Last year, the Pioneer portfolio partnered with Ashoka Changemakers to launch the Innovations for Health: Solutions that Cross Borders competition to find health care solutions from anywhere in the world that have the potential to be applied in other countries to improve health and health care.

After nearly 400 entries from 73 countries, we’re pleased to announce the finalists, and share a blog post with more details from Ashoka Changemakers. Stay tuned for the winners announcement on April 16!

Introducing Innovations for Health: Solutions that Cross Borders

Nov 14, 2011, 8:28 AM, Posted by Deborah Bae

At RWJF, we’re focused on solving the most intractable health and health care challenges in the United States, but we recognize that innovations come from all over the world and that many effective health solutions are emerging with the potential for immediate adaptation, replication and impact. That’s largely because, despite their differences, many countries throughout the world face a surprisingly similar set of health care challenges.

In today’s interconnected world, we have an important opportunity to learn from each other – especially when a new idea has the potential to make a difference in a big way. For example, the New York Times recently released a special section, “Small Fixes,” which focused on low-cost health care innovations to improve global health. The small fixes ranged from simple, self-adjusting eyeglasses for those who don’t have access to optometrists to the sophisticated, Gates-funded “postage stamp” paper to detect liver disease nearly instantaneously—the samples don’t have to be sent to a laboratory to be processed.

The innovation that most caught my interest in this article was one in Mozambique that organized patient groups to take turns picking up their medications, thereby forming strong social bonds, reducing stigma and increasing adherence to antiretroviral drugs. The organized patient groups also reduced the burden on health care workers while increasing patient engagement and self-management of care. Some consider this “small fix” a potential game changer for HIV care.

What’s striking about many of these solutions is that they highlight the universality of health problems faced throughout the world, such as lack of preventive care, provider shortages and rising health care costs. And, while most of the solutions are geared towards solving health problems outside of the United States, with some imagination, I believe many of these fixes could easily improve people’s lives in our country.

It’s this desire to accelerate change by tapping into unconventional thinking around the globe that led the Pioneer team to partner to launch the Innovations for Health: Solutions that Cross Borders competition with Ashoka Changemakers. We’re looking to find solutions to these universal health care issues, and are most interested in those that have potential to:

  • Increase capacity and training for health care workers and providers;
  • Scale low-cost interventions to increase access to medical, preventive, or dental care;
  • Reduce barriers to health information and services;
  • Provide high-quality care in non-traditional settings; and
  • Engage patients directly in their care, particularly those managing chronic illnesses.

We’re thrilled to seek these global health care solutions and hope you’ll check out the competition, learn more about the three $10,000 prizes, and share the link with your network of pioneering thinkers. And why not submit an entry yourself, nominate an organization to compete, or comment on the submissions? We can’t wait to see what ideas you might have.

And the Winners Are...

Oct 7, 2010, 10:00 AM, Posted by Steve Downs

As I mentioned back in August, RWJF joined the Health 2.0 Developer Challenge by offering small prizes for three different challenges:  1) building apps that leveraged the Blue Button initiative; 2) apps that bring the data from County Health Rankings into everyday decisions; and 3) bringing Project HealthDesign designs to life by building apps that work on commercial PHR systems.  At the time I said that we wouldn’t know what to expect – that we might not get anything useful at all from this exercise.  WRONG!

The response was terrific.  I won’t say overwhelming, but given the modest amount of prize money (okay, Markle scored coffee with Clay Shirky, which is no small deal) and the relative short amount of time to respond (barely a month), I’d say pretty darn good.  And definitely useful.

I’m a big fan of the Blue Button initiative for two reasons:  1) it gets the data out of the health care system and into the hands of users, where a marketplace of translators, interpreters and other tools can grow around making data useful to people; and 2) it’s beautifully simple.  The response highlighted the potential of this market:  we had large companies like Adobe and Microsoft build really valuable utilities – to translate a largely unreadable ASCII text files into very nicely designed PDF documents and to import Blue Button data into HealthVault, respectively.  But we also saw smaller organizations (seven in all) like MedCommons and RememberItNow showcase more narrowly focused apps that deal with important tasks – like getting a second opinion on a radiology image or remembering to take your meds.  Adobe came out on top in the end – and deservedly so as they built a really nice app – but the key takeaway is that they’re just the tip of the iceberg of what could come.  Hats off to the Markle Foundation, CMS and the VA for bringing Blue Button so far along so quickly.

The County Health Rankings challenge drew a number of interesting submissions.  Where we live, work, learn and play dramatically affects our health.  So when you’re choosing a place to live, wouldn’t you want to look up health indicators the way parents look up data on the quality of the schools?  That’s what the challenge winner, Acsys Interactive, makes possible.  They embedded the county health rankings data into their mobile real estate app.  So now when you want to get the scoop on the house for sale you’re driving by, you point your phone at it and get both real estate data and easy access to county health data.  The challenge drew four other submissions, which also included a utility to have the data texted to your phone when you text in a zip code and a tool to help understand asthma risks in a given county.

The Project HealthDesign Developer Challenge was won by Ringful Health, which produced a really slick app for managing chronic pain.  With it, you can use your iPhone to jot down your pain levels and triggers, get feedback on frequent triggers and how effective your medications have been at controlling your pain, and generate reports that you can share with your doctor.  Ringful had been working on this app, but, inspired by the design from Roger Luckmann’s team at UMass, added several new features and then built back end integration with the HealthVault, Google Health and Dossia personal health record services.  Another competitor, CureTogether, extended their site, which helps people track their observations of daily living (ODLs) like sleep, exercise, and food intake, to include lab test data.  A third, and very intriguing, submission came from Fred Trotter, who built an open source utility to track ODLs and store them on Twitter (in a protected account) and then use Grafitter to analyze the data and display patterns.  Fred’s solution is especially interesting because he’s leveraging existing infrastructure and by building an open source tool, he’s inviting others to take it further.

So all in all, I’m quite pleased with how the challenges went.  And it makes me wonder what challenges we should put out next.  Any ideas?

Winning Nudges Announced in "Designing for Better Health" Competition

Jun 3, 2009, 11:55 AM, Posted by Paul Tarini


The winners of the "Designing for Better Health" competition we held with Ashoka’s Changemakers have been announced.  The competition was inspired by the book Nudge, which was written by behavioral economics experts Cass R. Sunstein, J.D. and Richard Thaler, Ph.D.  Nudges are simple pushes that can induce someone to change their behavior.  My favorite entry didn’t win.  If you tracked the competition, it was “Just an Idea.”  This entry suggested a way to help more women conduct their monthly breast self-examination—put a reminder symbol in birth control pill packages on the optimal exam day.  I thought this idea was elegant.

There were 285 entries from 29 countries.  The three winners were all international:

  • GOONJ (India) - GOONJ (means “echo”) collects donated cloth and creates clean sanitary pads that it then distributes to women, while at the same time bringing out in the open the taboo subject of menstrual hygiene.
  • San Francisco Saludable (Peru) - This unique waste management program nudges people to change their traditional habits to improve their health by producing compost for family gardens. 
  • Fundación Boca Sana (Venezuela) - Children are nudged to better oral health because they receive training to act as scholar/promoters who share what they have learned about proper oral hygiene and care with other children, parents and relatives. 

After reading through all of the entries, I came to the conclusion that nudges, as conceived by Thaler and Sunstein, are a subtle concept.  The folks at Changemakers tried hard to explain the concept on the competition site and, to my eyes, they did a good job.  But looking at the entries, a lot of them weren’t even nudge-ish.  In designing the concept of nudges, Thaler and Sunstein were trying to walk a fine political line to come up with an approach to policy that would be acceptable to the right and the left—Libertarian Paternalism, they call it.  One thought as to why a good nudge is hard to find is that it requires a lot of discipline on the part of the designer.  You set up the nudge and then stand back.  If people aren’t nudged to do the right thing, that’s get your answer pretty clearly as to whether it worked.  For people who are driven to solve problems, that may be a very hard stand to take.

That said, there were some wonderful entries and I offer my sincere congratulations to the winners—well done!  Also, I thank Changemakers for their good work and my fellow judges for their efforts.  We’re glad to have sponsored the competition and we hope those who entered, commented and otherwise participated continue to explore the power that well-designed nudges can have in driving better health decisions, behaviors and outcomes.