Open Innovation and the Power of Health Data

Published Aug-25-13

Putting health data to work unlocks innovation. Three prize-winning mobile apps have the potential to advance healthcare in the United States.

Institute of Medicine/National Academy of Engineering, United States

The Story:

Open Innovation and the Power of Health Data The world is swimming with data - long reams of statistics, charts, graphs, and analyses. More of it is available to the general public than ever before as government institutions and organisations large and small release their information under the auspices of open information initiatives.

Those facts and figures are raw material that can be transformed into powerful innovations to boost business success or create products for the common good.

The data release programs and the drive to do something with them are powerful examples of the breadth and ambition of open innovation. Individuals and groups in numerous industries are creating breakthrough innovations from using the data in novel ways.

Go Viral

The ‘Go Viral to Improve Health: IOM-NAE Health Data Collegiate Challenge’ is an annual open innovation contest. It challenges college and university students across the US to identify a health problem, utilize available data, and develop web-based or mobile applications to help solve the problem. The initiative is hosted by the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Engineering.

Health data may appear to be an abstraction, but it has real potential to transform how healthcare information is accessed. It can also improve how care is delivered, lower costs and lead to job creation.

The second annual 'Go Viral' challenge took place in 2012 - 51 teams registered and 21 apps were submitted. The technologies were evaluated on innovation and creativity, how they integrated the health data, and the potential to have a demonstrable impact on the health of individuals and communities.


The first place winner was an app called VaxNation developed by a team of students from Baylor College, Rice University, and the University of Texas. The app makes it user for people to organize their family’s immunization records. For example, it sends reminders of when they or their children are due for a vaccination. The app also provides links to information about diseases. The team received a check for $10,000.

Second place was awarded to Rays Awareness, developed by students from the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. This app raises awareness of the danger of overexposure to the sun and provides tips to prevent skin damage. It also syncs with a user’s daily schedule. For example, a person can find out the UV index of their location and if the app detects an outdoor activity on the individual's calendar, it will create a reminder to apply sunscreen 30 minutes before the event. The team received a check for $5,000.

In third place was a team from Indiana for their HealthyState app. It provides images and information about the health of the population of each state. Users will see an avatar of the human body, and different parts of the anatomy correspond to difference diseases and conditions. For example, heart=cardiac, brain=stroke.

By tapping on a body part users will see relevant information about the prevalence of the condition in each state. This can be valuable knowledge for people considering looking for a new job or retiring to a state. The team received a check for $3,000.

"Data identifies health problems and can point the way to solutions, but only if they are harnessed in user-friendly ways," said IOM President Harvey V. Fineberg.

"This year's winning apps demonstrate that ingenuity and collaboration among young people from different disciplines can yield creative, accessible tools and turn our smartphones or tablets into health improvement devices."

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