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Happiness is Hot

Apr 30, 2012, 9:15 AM, Posted by Paul Tarini

Paul Tarini Paul Tarini

Happiness is gaining currency today, particularly in relationship to health and medicine. That’s what we’ve been hearing ever since Harvard School of Public Health researchers Julia K. Boehm and Laura Kubzansky published their report “The Heart’s Content: The Association Between Positive Psychological Well-Being and Cardiovascular Health” in the Psychological Bulletin, under a grant from Pioneer. This is the first study of its kind to look closely at how positive psychological well-being—including happiness and optimism—plays a role in heart health.

The story was indeed hot – gaining attention from USA Today, The Huffington Post, TIME’s Healthland blog, WebMD, The New York Times’ Well Blog, ABCNews.com, MensHealth.com, ModernHealthcare.com, Oprah.com, and hundreds more – and being shared throughout social networks and on the web.

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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!

Pioneer's Commitment to Health Games Profiled in New Games for Health Journal

Mar 12, 2012, 10:00 AM, Posted by Paul Tarini

I recently had the good fortune of sitting down with Bill Ferguson to discuss the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s pivotal role in health games research for the inaugural issue of the Games for Health Journal. In our talk, I detailed the Foundation’s early investment in the field, the challenges to advancing health games and some grantee findings to date.

Thinking about our conversation, I’m struck by how far the field has come since the early days of our health games support in 2004. Back then, there wasn’t much intersection between the games space and the health space, but Pioneer saw potential. So we worked with Ben Sawyer (@BenSawyer) of Digitalmill to do some community building within the gaming industry around health interests and funded the first-ever Games for Health Conference.   

Now, with seven conferences behind us and the eighth scheduled for June 12-14, 2012, in Boston, Pioneer can proudly claim we helped create and sustain a way for the games and health communities to come together. But we didn’t stop there.

Pioneer expanded its support to the Health Games Research national program, directed by Debra Lieberman at UC Santa Barbara (who is featured in a roundtable discussion of health games experts in the Journal), where we are seeing our 21 grantees test some fascinating ways health games can be optimally designed. They're exploring game features such as competition, collaboration, social comparison, social support, nurturing of characters, immersion in fictional worlds and alternate realities, interacting with a human-like robots to motivate exercise, using a mobile phone game as a substitute for a cigarette, and much more. And there’s more to come.

Health Games Research's work to identify a broad range of features that make for effective health games will help to further expand the creative horizons of future developers. Well-designed and well-implemented games can motivate and support prevention, lifestyle behavior change, and self-management of chronic conditions, and Pioneer is proud to be part of this work. We are excited to see a journal devoted to the research, development, and clinical application of games and health.

Check out the inaugural issue and read about the work of Pioneer’s grantees and others in this important field on the Pioneer Health Games homepage. Tell @pioneerrwjf or @gamesresearch what you think.

New Data Reveals High Death Rates From Clostridium Difficile (C. diff)

Mar 8, 2012, 11:35 AM, Posted by Pioneer Blog Team

A new Vital Signs report issued March 6 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows rates of infection with Clostridium difficile (C. diff) are at historic highs and must be curtailed. C. diff can cause cramps, severe diarrhea and, in some cases, death.

Also on March 6, Extending the Cure—a project funded by the Pioneer Portfolio that studies antibiotic resistance—released a new analysis showing high C. diff death rates in parts of New England. In fact, the Extending the Cure analysis shows that as of 2007 Rhode Island, Maine, and Connecticut had the highest death rates for C. diff in the nation.

These top three states had death rates that were more than double the national average of 2.15 deaths per 100,000 people.  The trend is visualized using the interactive mapping platform of ResistanceMap, Extending the Cure’s online tool that tracks antibiotic use and drug resistance in North America and in Europe.

At the same time, the mapshows that most Southern and Western states had death rates from C. diff that were below the national average. For example, Georgia, Colorado, and Idaho reported less than one death per 100,000 people from these infections in 2007. “The geographical variation points to the need for additional research to better understand the epidemiology of C. diff infections and highlight the most effective ways of preventing their spread,” says Ramanan Laxminarayan, director of Extending the Cure, the D.C-based research project funded in part by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Pioneer Portfolio.

While C. diff has long been linked to hospitals, the CDC report finds that patients can acquire the infection in all medical settings, including nursing homes and outpatient clinics. Those most at risk are patients who take antibiotics, which can wipe out the good bacteria living in the gut, allowing C. diff to thrive.

C. diff infections can be reduced by judicious use of antibiotics, according to the CDC, which notes that about 50 percent of all antibiotics prescribed are not necessary. Reducing unnecessary antibiotic use will not only help prevent C. diff infections, but also curtail the growing problem of antibiotic resistance.

Addressing the rising rates of C. diff infections will require a multifaceted approach.  In addition to promoting antibiotic stewardship, health officials must work towards better infection control and early diagnosis at hospitals and other facilities where C. diff and other health care-associated infections can spread from patient to patient or from one facility to the next.

 In addition, policymakers, researchers, and others can use visualizations, like the map from Extending the Cure, to identify regions of the country with the most serious problems and look for targeted solutions to the rising tide of C. diff and other disease-causing bacterial pathogens.

Check out the new data and let us know what you think: Do you have a story to tell about a solution to the problem with C. diff?

Follow @ExtendgtheCure on Twitter to track coverage of this study.

Freelancers Union Expands Affordable and Stable Coverage for Independent Workers

Feb 24, 2012, 11:32 AM, Posted by Nancy Barrand

Some good news came our way this week -- a story unfolding the way we hoped it would.

Freelancers Union, a Pioneer Portfolio grantee, will launch three Consumer Operated and Oriented Plans (CO-OPs)--nonprofit, consumer-governed insurance companies envisioned by the Affordable Care Act to expand health insurance choices for consumers and small businesses. This is made possible by $340 million in low-interest and no-interest federal loans announced Feb. 21 by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to start three of the first seven CO-OPs in New York, New Jersey and Oregon.

We’re delighted because Freelancers Union used a 2010 grant from Pioneer to shape its existing ground-breaking model for demand-side, consumer-driven health care into a proposal for the new world of CO-OPs.

It was a natural fit. Here’s the back story.

The existence of Freelancers Union is recognition that for the 30 percent of the workforce that earns its living as freelancers, contractors and temps – so-called independent or contingent workers – there are no employer-provided benefits, including health insurance. Many of these workers earn too much to qualify for public assistance and not enough to afford the health insurance available in the individual market, typically more costly than the group market plans offered by employers.

As a Foundation, we have been concerned for 30 years about Americans’ lack of access to affordable and stable health coverage, so a partnership took shape over the course of three grants.

We first partnered with Freelancers Union in 2007, when they were looking to start a health plan for the contingent work force, but with an important twist. They wanted the benefits to reflect input from the workers. Our first grant helped the organization conduct surveys and focus groups to shape the benefit design. It learned that its members wanted a product aligned to their holistic needs on top of catastrophic coverage.

With a second grant in 2008, we joined a consortium of funders that helped launch a for-profit subsidiary, Freelancers Insurance Co., with a line of products that combine catastrophic insurance coverage with special attention paid to mental health services as well as wellness, prevention and alternative therapies.

Then with a third grant in 2010 we sought to enable Freelancers Union to expand its group purchasing health-benefits program from New York into New Jersey and Georgia. We envisioned this work might produce a prototype for the CO-OPs, and it did. All CO-OPs won’t follow the Freelancers Union model, of course, but it certainly sets a standard.

The work of Freelancers Union reflects many of the core ideas that drive Pioneer Portfolio grant-making. It is transformative and disruptive. As large insurers back away from the individual market because of the tight profit margins, some fresh thinking is badly needed, like rolling individuals into groups even though they do not work together, and then listening to them carefully to design products that meet their needs.

That’s pioneering, and we’re proud to have played a part.

Follow @FreelancersU on Twitter.