Mobile phones and devices are becoming increasingly integral to everything we do – banking, shopping, navigating, and learning have all gone mobile. With the rise of mobile tech, there is awesome opportunity to focus the attention of developers on health needs that can be addressed with mobile! Last July, HHS CTO Todd Park announced the availability of the HHS Challenge Toolkit website and highlighted the department’s use of Developer Challenges as a tool to engage technology innovators to build creative and useful health solutions. The toolkit itself provides guidance, examples, and best practices for creating and running a challenge. Having participated in the design and judging of mHealth challenges/competitions, here are a couple of reflections:
- mHealth Technologies Change Rapidly, Challenges/Competitions Allow for Rapid Innovation Too!
Challenges/competitions allow us to search for solutions to a problem even when the exact specifications of a solution are not yet known, inviting high levels of creativity and innovation. While developers are excited about mobile in areas such as commerce, they may be unaware of the potential of mobile technology to address health issues. Furthermore, they may be unaware of the readily available data resources though sites such as www.healthdata.gov and www.healthindicators.gov. By integrating these mobile technologies into the design of challenges, we can raise the profile of these resources, while greatly aiding the developers’ exploration of a possibly unfamiliar space.
- Challenges/Competitions Invite Broader Participation A key feature of challenges/competitions is its flexibility to engage untapped talent pools of not only developers, but also talented expert judges for participation. In the recent Apps Against Abuse challenge, for instance, domestic violence and tech experts across the federal government came together to provide expertise in judging apps submitted by new collaborations between techies and content experts. For the “M-Health B-Plan competition” 2012 in India, the coordinators actually utilized innovative technology (i.e., Skype) to allow a judge (me) to participate in real-time from another country, using a laptop & webcam.
- mHealth Challenges May Have Specific Needs Challenges/competitions that involve mobile technology often require the use of specific operating systems (OS) or devices (iPhone/iOS, Android, Blackberry, etc.) to adequately judge submitted apps. In addition, apps that require additional functionality (e.g., camera, GPS, accelerometers) also may need to be taken into consideration when judging submissions. Without the necessary devices, operating systems, and/or additional integrated hardware, judging submitted apps adequately may prove difficult.
The potential for HHS agencies to encourage, assist and influence the mobile health space is tangible, and developer challenges offer exciting new ways to encourage change and innovation in this space. Check out health.data.gov, challenge.gov, and hhs.gov/open for more info. And then dial in your comments below.