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?

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Pioneering Ideas blog.