Got a good idea for a health app or health innovation? The health agencies of the U.S. government want to know. Since 2009, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has invited citizens and tech and health experts, to submit their ideas for new health apps or strategies to help improve population health outcomes through open "challenges."
A recent challenge, still open to contestants, comes from the Office of the Surgeon General, deemed the Healthy Apps Challenge, to help provide tailored health information and empower users to engage in healthy behaviors. Another challenge from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology asks entrants to create a video of two minutes or shorter on how to use technology to achieve a New Year’s health resolution.
Ashoka Changemakers and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation have created a challenge called Innovations for Health: Solutions that Cross Borders, with a goal of finding “health care innovations that have the potential to be adapted and applied in different countries experiencing similar barriers to health” – with a focus on both individual health and prevention at a population level. The challenge is particularly looking for new approaches or unique models of change that demonstrate a substantial difference from other initiatives in the field, and for solutions that have demonstrated impact and help vulnerable and under-served populations. The cash prize for the challenge is $10,000 each for up to three winners, and the deadline for ideas is February 13. (From among the entries, the Foundation will also be looking for ideas that show potential to help produce significant improvement in health and health care in the United States).
Why issue a challenge rather than a request for proposals in order to find solutions to so many critical health problems? NewPublicHealth recently asked just that of Todd Park, Chief Technology Officer of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
NewPublicHealth: Health challenges are garnering quite a few contestants, judging by the traffic on the websites. Why are they such a good option for exploring new health solutions?
Todd Park: The challenges are a terrific way to engender innovation for a variety of reasons. One, they tend to attract both usual suspects and unusual suspects. So folks who may have highly complementary expertise or experience in other sectors are now applying their expertise for the first time to help solve a health or health care problem. In fact, the emerging academic literature on challenges in general indicate that the people who win the challenges tend to be, the majority of the time, folks who are unusual suspects; folks who actually come from other sectors who are applying their expertise for the first time to a problem in the sector from which the challenge is being issued.
And another reason why they tend to be – when done well – very successful engenders of innovation is that it’s a very broad-based response that you get. So as opposed to say a procurement where you ask a single organization to come up with the answer to a given question, you’re basically asking the planet for an answer to a question or a solution to a problem, so you get many more responses that are much more diverse than you would get from a narrow solicitation.
NPH: Is there a challenge winner from a non-health sector whose submission blew you away?