How to Spur Healthcare Innovation

How to Spur Healthcare Innovation

Datapalooza, a conference that pairs eager developers with a treasure-trove of government healthcare data, is aiming to spur mobile initiatives and create apps that impact our lives.

The Health Data Initiative, a public-private collaboration funded by the Institute of Medicine and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, will host its third annual Datapalooza, set for June 5 to 6 in Washington D.C., to showcase the latest mHealth innovations forged with open health data.

“It’s a phenomenal time to be an innovator at the intersection of data and health care improvement,” said Todd Park, chief technology officer of HHS about Datapalooza. “I’m incredibly excited by the rising tide of innovations we’re seeing — new products, services and features being invented by entrepreneurs across the country, fueled by open health data.”

The HHS provides access to the federal government’s vast data collections on topics like hospital performance, community health, and FDA recalls, for example, and converts published data in PDF format or books into machine-readable formats, which include APIs for third-party developer use.

At the yearly Health Datapalooza, the entrepreneurs discuss their best products and services. The innovators team up and compete on the stage, in an American Idol-style face-off. But instead of performing songs, these contestants present mHealth innovations mined from the Health Data Initiative’s public release of data sets.

The mobile healthcare, or mHealth, market is expected to reach $5 billion by 2014, and more than double by 2020, according to the Center for Technology and Aging.

By aiming to put widespread access to healthcare within the reach of those who need it the most, mHealth is changing the traditional delivery of health care, allowing for more continuous, pervasive health care anytime, and opening up broader swaths of data to developers is expected to spur a growing number of innovations.

For example, last year, the HHS unveiled two non-smoking apps for its mobile health initiative. QuitNowTXT and SmokeFreeTXT are part of the agency’s $5 million investment in the Text4Health program, created in collaboration with the National Cancer Institute.

The HHS is also pursuing public-private partnerships to create apps for pregnant women, children and those who need emergency care, understanding text messaging is widely available, inexpensive and allows for immediate delivery of information.

Also, Johns Hopkins is sponsoring 49 different studies in support of the Global mHealth Initiative to identify the apps that best help patients, doctors and the medical community by comparing them to traditional methods.

While many are aware of breakthrough medical technologies, the HHS estimates that roughly 95 percent of the potential entrepreneur pool isn’t aware that these vast stores of data exist and can help with future innovations, so the agency is working to increase awareness.

Companies like Google and Microsoft are pitching in, holding health-data-code-a-thons and Health 2.0 developer challenges. These corporate collaborations produced applications for managing chronic diseases, finding providers, and locating clinical trials — all using the government’s open data — in a fraction of time it historically has taken.

There is big push to coordinate the layers of government healthcare data into one open, comprehensive database that public innovators can manipulate. The thinking is these vast stores of data can be joined and used to promote public welfare, following the trail blazed by another government agency.

Nearly three decades ago, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration decided to release its data to the public, and the move resulted in a flurry of innovations, like mobile apps, websites and forecasting research tools, which transformed weather into a booming industry.

Datapalooza is designed to duplicate NOAA’s success by opening reams of information for innovation to spur development of a wealth of medical tools and creations to help people improve their health and use the healthcare system more effectively.

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