Looking Back on a Busy Year as HHS CTO

Photo of HHS Chief Technology Officer, Bruce Greenstein


By: Bruce Greenstein, HHS Chief Technology Officer

After over a year proudly serving as Chief Technology Officer at HHS, I have accepted an offer to move back to the private sector.

Working at the intersection of data, innovation, and technology, the Office of the CTO is tasked with improving business processes within the Department. Additionally, we test and validate solutions to solve challenging problems in the delivery of health and human services.

This year HHS Secretary Azar outlined his top priorities, which included combatting the opioid crisis, reducing the cost of healthcare, and ushering in a value-based system. Our initiatives have specifically tackled those priorities.

We recognized that the opioid crisis was in part a data problem. In organizing the HHS Opioid Code-a-Thon, we focused on connecting data to help HHS and local entities gain insight into this complex health challenge. The event attracted teams from corporate heavyweights, students from Harvard and MIT, and small startups across the nation with the mission to create data-driven solutions addressing the opioid epidemic.

We believe healthcare is costly in part because of a lack of innovative, cheaper medical solutions. No group knows this better than chronic kidney disease patients, where dialysis treatment has barely changed in decades. That is why we launched KidneyX, an accelerator that addresses the need for innovation in the treatment, prevention, and diagnosis of chronic kidney disease. KidneyX is a public-private partnership with the American Society of Nephrology that will soon announce an application and encourage innovators to participate. We’re excited to see more entrepreneurs build devices and solutions for a disease that affects millions of Americans. We are thankful for the dedicated health professionals at HHS and ASN who will continue to drive this work until patients with chronic kidney disease see the improvements they deserve.

Photo of Secretary Alex Azar and Bruce Greenstein

Secretary Alex Azar and Bruce Greenstein

The transformation to a value-based healthcare system necessitates better data sharing and analysis to determine the quality of care. At a department as large as HHS, effective data sharing can be challenging. The Enterprise Data Initiative was launched to collect and disseminate data, publishing 1,900 data sets on HealthData.gov to date. Opening data is not enough by itself, which is why the Office of the CTO encourages insightful inter-agency data analysis. We did exactly this between the CDC and CMS, successfully bridging their data divide to produce a robust analysis of infant mortality.

Startup Day at HHS illustrated the value of opening our doors to small teams and entrepreneurs, not just large incumbents. In the Office of the CTO, we believe that attracting more entrepreneurs to focus on federal problems is good for the government. Too many barriers have limited the number of people seeking to innovate in the healthcare space. At Startup Day, early-stage companies gained valuable access to top HHS leadership along with data sets to launch new ventures.

Photo of the Global Digital Health Partnership

Meeting with the Global Digital Health Partnership

HHS is not the only health agency focused on transitioning to value-based care. Other nations have similar initiatives, which is why we helped to found the Global Digital Health Partnership, a consortium of governments from around the world dedicated to sharing digital health practices. As co-chair, I created a framework for how the GDHP as a unified body can demand health technology standards critical to improving healthcare.

In weighing the decision to leave, I had the comfort of knowing that so much has been accomplished in the Office of the CTO. Over the past year, these initiatives–along with the top-notch technology consulting we provide throughout the Department–worked to usher in a culture that believes data sharing, innovative design, and technology are critical to achieving Secretary Azar’s priorities.

Serving this department has been an honor and privilege for which I am incredibly grateful. The people I have met and the team that has supported our efforts have been nothing short of stellar. I’m excited about the next chapter and look forward to bringing innovation to an area of healthcare that is long overdue for change. I wish everyone at HHS continued success on our important mission.

Leveraging the Power of the Crowd in Research and Data Analysis

By Katrina Theisz, Program Analyst, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health

This year at Health Datapalooza 2018, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has put together a panel highlighting the impact of biomedical crowdsourcing on the scientific community. Featuring talks from Jennifer Couch (National Institutes of Health),  Sandeep Patel (HHS IDEA Lab) Stephanie Devaney (National Institutes of Health), Pietro Michelucci (Human Computation Institute), and Matt Biggerstaff (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), we’ll delve into the different ways engaging the public in scientific research can complement traditional research methods while moving the field forward.

By engaging with people who may not normally participate in scientific endeavors you can gain insight and creative solutions you may not be able to through standard scientific approaches. Citizen Science is an example of a collaborative approach to research involving the public, not just as subjects of or advisors to the research, but as direct collaborators and partners. People know their own lives, their health, their communities, and by working in partnership with them, researchers stand to gain so much. The word partnership is of importance here; that, depending on the project, the questions being asked, and how the study is performed, much of this work starts at the individual or community level.

At its heart, true citizen science is bottom-up, not top-down.Graph that says create, collaborate, connect

Crowdsourcing, on the other hand, tends to start with researchers and filter down, typically in one of two ways: 1. voluntary participation or contributions solicited from unknown individuals (aka “the crowd,” be they experts or not); and 2. opening a line of scientific inquiry to a group of experts (typically achieved through prizes and challenges). People are motivated to help science for a variety of reasons- some because the research may directly impact their lives, others simply because they like science. Sometimes adding a game-like or competitive component to the project is enough to draw people to it.  An added bonus of tapping into the power of the crowd is gaining access to insights you don’t expect. (for example, in Galaxy Zoo, participants sort through satellite imagery to identify different classes of galaxies- side note: by giving participants a forum to share their thoughts and converse with each other, citizen scientists realized they had found an entirely new kind of galaxy.)

But it’s not without its hurdles. Biomedical citizen science and crowdsourcing come packaged with issues that don’t commonly plague other types of projects that engage the public in scientific research. When it comes to sharing personal health data, for instance, there are data privacy and security issues that you won’t find in astronomy citizen science projects. Therefore, trust and transparency are key to the success of any such project, starting at the beginning. It starts with consent- consent that is easy to understand, no law degree needed, no lengthy fine print. What data do the project leaders need? What will it be used for? Who can access it? Addressing those questions clearly up front (and sticking to them) is a great way to avoid issues later. Want to reuse those data later for a different project? Great! Re-consent your participants. Concerned that not everyone in your study is comfortable with the language being used? Consistent iconography can help. We’re an increasingly visual society, and utilizing familiar icons and images can help to clearly convey content without resorting to wordiness.

And then there are the never-ending questions about data quality. How can traditional researchers ensure that donated data are accurate? What kinds of quality control methods work best? Available data suggest that the crowd is as accurate as (and sometimes more accurate than) individual experts, something that has been demonstrated time and time again. Additionally, humans are quite adept at making inferences, visual perception, and abstract thought, which, when paired with computers, can help to train algorithms to recognize certain objects or patterns.

On Friday, April 27th at Health Datapalooza 2018 we will delve into these concepts and much more. For more information on the conference please go to: http://www.academyhealth.org/events/2018-04/2018-health-datapalooza.

Editor’s Note: You can register for the Health Datapalooza here. HHS is a sponsor of the conference.

Connecting Data for better insights at the Health Datapalooza

Series of post-it notes

Photo taken during an Office of the CTO brainstorm session

By Bruce Greenstein, HHS Chief Technology Officer and Mona Siddiqui, Chief Data Officer

In 2010, a small group of individuals from HHS and the public sector, tech industry, and healthcare systems gathered with a single question in mind: What data is required to understand and improve health outcomes? How do we share it internally and externally? This first meeting of the public and private sector to identify ways that data can be used to improve health outcomes led to an annual conference called the Health Datapalooza.

The 9th annual Health Datapalooza returns on April 26-27, 2018 in Washington, DC with the same spirit for innovation, bias towards action, and focus on outcomes.

Health Datapalooza is the conference that brings together federal policymakers, health startups, and health system leaders for actionable conversations on how data can be used to improve health and healthcare.

Since, 2010, the HHS Office of the CTO has led the charge for Open Data and has released more than 1,500 data sets on HealthData.Gov. The Open Data movement continues to be a focus of the Department and the Office of the CTO is committed to fostering the use of data for social good. Now, we turn our focus to examining how HHS is using its own data assets to make more evidence-based policy decisions and to develop data-driven solutions for complex problems.

Last year’s HHS Opioid Code-a-Thon, gave our team a look into the many rich data assets at HHS and showed the public and the Department what innovative solutions can be developed when the public and the private sector come together.

We are coming to Health Datapalooza this year looking for ideas: What would you like to see improved on HealthData.gov? How can we meaningfully engage with researchers and entrepreneurs to understand what is needed and important on HealthData.gov? How do we balance data quality with data availability and timeliness at HHS?

Health Datapalooza is the perfect venue to listen to your ideas and share our plans for the future.

As we continue to advocate for Open Data, we are also focusing on how data is used internally at HHS through the Data Insights Initiative. Our vision is an HHS where data are shared, connected, and analyzed in responsible ways to improve how HHS delivers on its mission to enhance and protect the health and well-being of all Americans. We are working with HHS data stewards and open data stakeholders to better understand how we can intelligently use HHS data assets to make evidence-based policy decisions.

Responsible and accountable use of data are topics that are pervasive in our daily discourse. How do other large organizations create responsible, transparent, and accountable processes for data sharing? How can data be connected for real time actionable impact? These are tough but timely issues that require a diverse set of perspectives and a continued commitment from all stakeholders.

Photo of a woman with a flyer

Testing patient education materials with 2017 Health Datapalooza attendees

Along with the HHS CTO, this year at Health Datapalooza you’ll hear from the Secretary of Health and Human Services, the CMS Administrator, FDA Commissioner, the National Coordinator for Health IT and other public and private sector healthcare leaders. Breakout sessions will cover everything from public health surveillance, citizen science and crowdsourcing, machine learning and more.

Whether you are a patient, a provider, or a health data enthusiast, the opportunity to share knowledge across sectors and to see how health data is playing a central role in advancing meaningful solutions is an unparalleled opportunity at the Health Datapalooza. Working alongside startups and industry to solve complex problems is a cornerstone and key principle of the Office of the CTO. We don’t have all the answers, but together we can start to connect data to drive change.

We’re attending the Health Datapalooza in order to collaborate and build partnerships as we search for answers to the above questions. The Office of the CTO is committed to being a leader in promoting the use of data for better decisions and to drive change. We look forward to seeing you there and continuing this conversation.

Editor’s Note: You can register for the Health Datapalooza here. HHS is a sponsor of the conference.

Data Analyst Exchange Program aims to share data management and analysis lessons learned from across the globe

Photo of the Data Analyst Exchange Program participants

Photo of the Data Analyst Exchange Program participants

At the Office of the Chief Technology Officer (CTO), we believe encouraging collaboration between agencies within and outside of HHS can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our shared efforts. Using data to make informed, evidence-based policy decisions about health and human services is an important function of the Department. However, it is challenging to collaborate and share health and human service data across agencies due to siloed systems, the inability to combine and link de-identified data, and complex data sharing agreements. Other countries face similar and unique challenges and opportunities to sharing and using health and human service data.

“We started The Data Analyst Exchange Program to promote collaboration, address shared challenges, and share best practices between expert analysts in the United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK),” said HHS Chief Technology Officer, Bruce Greenstein. “Learning from other countries will help us liberate siloed data systems, collaborate across agencies, and better understand how to use the data gathered to improve the health of the US and the UK.” The program launched with a week-long onsite visit from six analysts and two executives from NHS Digital, the national information and technology partner to the health and social care system of the UK.


The visiting team included:

  • Tom Denwood: Executive Director of Data, Insights and Statistics, NHS Digital
  • Lisa Franklin: Director of Information and Technology, Southern Health Foundation Trust
  • Simone Chung: Principal Information Analyst, NHS Digital
  • Chris Dew: Information Analysis Lead Manager, NHS Digital
  • Wilma Harvey-Reid: Senior Information Analyst, NHS Digital
  • Emily Michelmore: Graduate Analyst, NHS Digital
  • Thomas Poupart: Principal Information Analyst, NHS Digital
  • Helen Richards: Principal Information Analyst, NHS Digital


The delegation from the UK attended meetings with leaders and analysts from agencies across HHS, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, and the National Center for Health Statistics. The aim of the meetings was to to share challenges, lessons learned, and best practices between efforts in the US and the UK to monitor and promote health. Specifically, this inaugural visit focused on efforts by the US and UK to address the opioid crisis and control antimicrobial resistance.

One week wasn’t enough to solve the enormous issues of the opioid crisis and antimicrobial resistance control, but the team of analysts made progress on brainstorming solutions to support these efforts. Using data from the HHS Opioid Symposium & Code-a-Thon, the UK data analysts made recommendations to build opioid overdose risk stratification tools, which could be integrated as decision-support modules in electronic health records, or used at the population-level to identify at-risk patient cohorts. Additionally, the team recommended mapping disease pathways for opioid overdose, making a directory of opioid addiction services publicly available for at-risk individuals, and creating new services that focus on all elements of a person’s life – health, home, purpose, and community – tailored to individuals at-risk of opioid overdose. To address antimicrobial resistance monitoring and control, the UK data analysts recommended investigating real-time patient tracking tools using patient identification bracelets, and monitoring of prescribed medications using a medication optimization dashboard, which can allow organizations to understand variations in local practice and provoke discussions about the appropriateness of local care.

The analysts also identified other opportunities for comparison and collaboration. Both governments in the US and the UK have challenges sharing data, combining data, and collaborating across agencies, due to complex data sharing agreements and data privacy restrictions. Analysts from the US and the UK exchanged local data sharing agreements to start strategizing ways to mitigate the complexity of data sharing and collaboration across agencies in the US and abroad.

Reflecting on the visit Tom Denwood, Executive Director of Data, Insights and Statistics, at NHS Digital said, “This was a great week exchanging information and ideas with US colleagues. This inaugural Data Analyst Exchange visit has been a great opportunity to contribute, and innovate, and ultimately enable analysts in both countries to help move each data business forward to meet the needs of the citizens we both serve”.

Continuing and expanding international collaboration will improve our ability to maintain and improve the health of our populations. A group of US and UK analysts will start meeting regularly in a Data Analyst Exchange International Working group to continue to collaborate and share best practices. This group will start by producing a final report of recommendations and next steps from the Data Analyst Exchange visit.

New Yale Student-Led Innovation Hub Wins Treatment Track at National HHS Opioid Code-a-Thon to Address Opioid Crisis

Matthew Erlendson and his teammates could scarcely believe what they were hearing. On stage, the Chief Data Officer of the Department of Health and Human Services had just announced that Origami Innovations, was one of three winners at a code-a-thon focused on finding data-driven solutions to address the national opioid crisis.

The judges unanimously selected the team from the new Yale student-led innovation hub as one of three winners among more than 50 entrants, including teams from established tech powerhouses like IBM. Erlendson, a fourth-year medical student at Yale University, had co-founded Origami Innovations just a year earlier. His teammates included Jack Cackler, a developer and data scientist at Palantir, Sachith Gullapalli, a software developer at Google and recent Yale alum, Dr. Frank Lee, a pain physician and Johns Hopkins professor, and Dara Rouholiman, a chemist, researcher and data scientist based at Stanford.Origami Innovations team photo

Over the course of the 24-hour code-a-thon, the team had developed a real-time predictive tool to help local hospitals, emergency responders and policymakers predict spikes in overdoses, so they could muster an adequate supply of overdose reversal drugs and better allocate resources to the locations in most need of help.

“The mission of Origami Innovations is to focus on solutions that move the conversation from how the world ‘should be changed’ to how the world ‘can be changed,’” Erlendson said.

Erlendson and another Yale medical student, Kirthi Bellamkonda, founded Origami to empower students to use human-centered design to make meaningful, real-world impact in the lives ofothers.  Among their ambitious plans: a division that works with students, patients and researchers to design health care companies; a venture arm to help companies born within Origami access the funding they need to grow; and an innovation hub and startup studio in downtown New Haven  where students can get mentorship and funding for their ideas, projected to open in mid-2018.

Erlendson and Bellamkonda were excited to hear about the HHS Opioid code-a-thon because its mission to bring together a range of different stakeholders and community members to create life-saving solutions paralleled their own mission. The Origami team was struck by the decision by Bruce Greenstein, HHS’ Chief Technology Officer, and Dr. Mona Siddiqui, the agency’s Chief Data Officer, to bring human-centered design into a tech hackathon. This seemed like something new, something inspired—Origami, naturally, wanted to be a part of it.

They quickly pulled together a team, and were thrilled when their application was accepted. However, unlike many of their well-resourced competitors, the student-led Origami team relied on funding and general support from New Haven community stakeholder HealthVenture, a digital health foundry and venture fund.

Before the code-a-thon, team members spent a day participating in the Stanford Medicine X led Design-a-Thon, an interdisciplinary workshop that offered insight into the national opioid epidemic. They were joined by other Yale students, including Bellamkonda, Lina Vadlamani from the Yale School of Medicine , Valentine Quadrat from Yale’s School of Management , and Lan Duan from the Yale School of Public Health, as well as Alexandra Winter, an equine surgeon and data scientist.

Knowing the value of listening to build empathy and find solutions, the group paid close attention to the testimonies of Ashley Elliott, a recovering addict, and Joe Riffe, a chronic pain patient and responsible user of opioid pain medication who works as a first responder. Additionally, they spoke at length with a father, Bill Williams, who lost his son to addiction.

Williams was struck by the fact that the Origami team really seemed to hear what he was saying.

“The larger teams thought they had solutions,” he said. “But they weren’t focusing on ‘what questions should we be asking?’”

Several members of the Origami team had firsthand experience with opioid addiction’s toll. As a medical student, Erlendson held hands with patients going through the agony of withdrawal; he’d also lost a close relative to addiction.

In New Haven, where many of the team members are still in school, an overdose spike in June 2016 led to 12 people being rushed to the Yale-New Haven Hospital within a few hours. The hospital didn’t have enough of the overdose reversal drug, Narcan, to meet the spike in need. The city was also in short supply, and couldn’t get its hands on enough medication in time. Three patients died.

During the code-a-thon, over 70 datasets from federal, state and local agencies were made available for teams to use. Instead of taking a traditional top-down approach, the Origami team decided to use smaller community level data sets to find a ground-up solution. They focused on a specific problem: Narcan shortages during spikes in overdoses. By analyzing Connecticut data, they recognized that an increase in overdoses in one community was often followed by a similar increase in neighboring communities. Their concept: a tool enabling hospitals, first responders and policymakers to better allocate resources by using a real-time prediction model for opioid overdoses.

Dr. Larry Chu, Executive Director of Stanford Medicine X, helped organize the event and was one of the judges. He called the Origami team’s ability to listen to stakeholders like Williams “really ingenious.”

“Sometimes the best, most creative use of technology is not about applying a lot of resources,” Chu said. “It’s about how can you solve a problem when you don’t have a lot of resources?”

The Origami team is putting the prize money toward validating the model, acquiring more data sets, and continuing to build the application. They are meeting with Connecticut policymakers, emergency responders and hospitals to implement the new data tool. Eventually, the team hopes it can be used across the country.

“So many students have these brilliant minds waiting to contribute to tangible solutions,” Erlendson said. “It’s just about empowering them to take those first steps.”

Team OPAT: Attacking the opioid epidemic with data-driven solutions

OPAT team photo

Photo by Will Kim

This blog post was adapted from a blog post by the author.

Some problems are so huge that they demand the audacity, tenacity, and flexibility of small teams. Bruce Greenstein, Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, brought this truth to the forefront last week when the Office of the CTO held the HHS Opioid Code-a-Thon at HHS Headquarters in the heart of Washington, D.C. The event gathered more than 50 teams from around the country to develop innovative ways to combat the nation’s worsening opioid epidemic.

With Opioid Overdoses established as the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50, it’s hard to imagine a more daunting test of teamwork, technology, and data.

Teams from multinational entities like IBM Watson competed alongside consulting firms, data startups, universities, and groups of passionate individuals who came together specifically for the event. Everyone shared the same goal: to protect and support Americans threatened by the opioid epidemic through innovative uses of data. The teams were split between tracks centered on prevention, treatment, and usage reduction. After coding through the night, the gauntlet was thrown down and teams were called on to pitch the fruits of their labor in presentations lasting less than 5 minutes.

In the end, our team won the Usage track. We did so in part by focusing on helping the people who control a patient’s first exposure to opioids.

Our Opioid Prescribing Awareness Tool (OPAT) focused on the challenges faced by the healthcare professionals who must make critical decisions in prescribing what proves for too many to be the ultimate “gateway drug.” We sought to borrow from the lessons of American Special Operations, converting CMS’s vast data sets into actionable intelligence and pushing that information down to those making decisions on the front lines. Our tool enables prescribers to see:

  • their prescribing behavior relative to that of others in their specialty, both in-state and nationally,
  • abnormally heavy opioid prescribers among the network of physicians to whom they refer patients,
  • clinics for multimodal pain management and addiction treatment in their area along with contact information, and
  • links to their state opioid registry to facilitate detection of “doctor shopping” behavior

…all of this information found for the roughly 4 seconds of effort required to type in their National Provider Identifier.

While I remain in awe of the brilliance of our Data Science & Development team, Jarrod Parker and Cameron Yick from New York data startup Enigma Technologies, no one could argue that the rest of the team was smarter than the competition. In fact, two members of our team didn’t write a single line of code. One didn’t even own a laptop. This may sound like a strange recipe for success at a CODE-a-thon, but it is consistent with the best of what I saw in US Special Operations serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. John Cronin’s decade of experience as an emergency room nurse and health system consultant gave us an edge in understanding the end user that cannot be quantified in lines of javascript. Rob Martin’s eye for detail and consummate managerial skills kept us on track through the low hours of the night and made sure the caffeination didn’t ebb. I tried to channel the circadian rhythm-busting tactics of my flying days and help keep our guys pulling in the same direction. Our team was weird, and that weirdness let us adapt to feedback and craft our solution around a critical pain point.

We are extremely grateful to HHS CTO Bruce Greenstein, HHS Chief Data Officer, Dr. Mona Siddiqui, and their entire team for putting together such a groundbreaking effort. We’d also like to thank track sponsors Alteryx and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette for supporting the event and providing the prize money that will help fund the early stages of our tool’s development. We hope this event marks the first of many in which HHS and its partners reach out with data, diverse problem solvers, and decidedly nontraditional approaches to saving American lives.

For more information on the OPAT tool, please contact Alex Rich at alex.rich@unc.edu

HHS Innovation Day is back!

We, at the Office of the Chief Technology Officer, home of the HHS IDEA Lab, are proud to announce HHS Innovation Day, Innovation with Impact, on December 13 in the Hubert Humphrey Headquarters Building from 9 AM- 4 PM.

Why Should You Participate?

HHS Innovation Day is an opportunity for HHS staff and the public to learn about innovation activities and new ideas across HHS, the federal government and the health innovation community that will generate change. HHS Innovation Day will showcase innovation programs like HHS’ Ignite Accelerator, highlight innovation and emerging technology approaches at the White House, and stimulate new ideas from outside experts. This is your opportunity to get immersed in entrepreneurial approaches and innovative strategies across HHS and other sectors.

The day will feature speakers from across the innovation spectrum including;

  • Matt Lira, Special Assistant to the President, Office of American Innovation, The White House
  • Michael Kratsios, Deputy Chief Technology Officer, The White House
  • Rasu Shrestha, Chief Innovation Officer at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC)
  • Joshua Marcuse, Executive Director for The Defense Innovation Board at the U.S. Department of Defense
  • Dean Chang, Vice President for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland (UMD).

Attend the event in person or participate via livestream.

We are particularly proud to enable employee-led project teams through HHS Ignite. These teams validate demand for their new or novel solution by asking two key questions before launching their projects – if I build it will they come, and if I build it will it have impact? Simply, they discover the problem that their solving and build a hypothesis for a solution through the machinery of customer discovery, customer segmentation, value proposition design, and iterative lean startup methods.

Moreover, these teams perform customer discovery, in which they empathize with the needs of their customers, create prototypes for their notional solutions, and then create a working prototype to test if their solution is usable. This process allows for nimble and agile project development that builds an ideal solution for customers.

In addition to hearing about the HHS Ignite Projects, attendees will learn about the broad array of services that the HHS IDEA Lab provides, including open innovation and the Entrepreneurs in Residence program during a panel discussion with HHS employees that have worked with the HHS IDEA Lab and used the methods that are practiced during the HHS Ignite program.

Jessie Buerlin, Public Health Analyst at the Health Resources and Service Administration (HRSA) will share how HRSA used open innovation to launch its Word Gap Challenge. By age three, children from low-income families heave heard 30 million fewer words than those from higher-income families, leading to delayed language skills and decreased school performance.  The HRSA Word Gap challenge accelerates innovative approaches to see how technology, like wearables and location based apps , can be used to improve early childhood learning.

Additionally, Bruce Sundstrom, Ph.D., Scientific Review Officer at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), will showcase how he prototyped and then scaled an innovative approach to scientific grant reviews at the NIH. .

You can attend the event in person or participate via livestream.




Fall 2017 HHS Ignite Accelerator: Selecting the Teams

At the HHS IDEA Lab, we have selected the 7th round of teams for the HHS Ignite Accelerator (Ignite), the Department’s internal innovation startup program for staff who want to improve the way their program, office, or agency works.

This round we received a total of 79 proposals from across the Department and 14 teams were accepted to participate in the program. This post is meant to illustrate the selection process. This post builds off previous explanations of the Ignite selection. Here are the links to our selection methodologies for Spring 2017, Spring 2016, Winter 2015, and Summer 2015.

We received 79 Proposals

Each team that submitted a proposal identified a project lead, and we asked for that person’s Agency (or as we call it here in HHS, that person’s Operational Division [OpDiv]). Below, we breakdown the 79 proposals by OpDiv.

· Administration for Children and Families = 2

· Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality = 0

· Centers for Disease Control and Prevention = 13

· Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services = 12

· Food and Drug Administration = 13

· Health Resources and Services Administration = 4

· Indian Health Service = 12

· National Institutes of Health = 12

· Office of the Secretary = 11

The 79 proposals were scored by 18 Reviewers

The reviewers were either previous Ignite team members or close collaborators on projects from the Office of the Chief Technology Officer. The reviewers were:

· Carin Kosmoski, CDC

· Jennifer Tyrawski, CDC

· Leigh Willis, CDC

· Jon Langmead, CMS

· Aditi Mallick, CMS

· Jennifer Himmelstein, IHS

· Bethany Applebaum, HRSA

· Dan Elbert, HRSA

· Paul Lotterer, HRSA

· Audrey Lau, NIH

· Jay Radke, NIH

· Bruce Sundstrom, NIH

· Nick Webber, NIH

· Kate Appel, OS

· Dan Duplantier, OS

· Katerina Horska, OS

· Mona Siddiqui, OS

· Elizabeth Squire, OS

Each proposal was scored 3 times

We worked with 18 reviewers, separated the reviewers into 6 panels, and then distributed the 79 proposals across the panels. Each proposal was scored roughly 3 times. We used the average of the 3 scores to make a final score that we used in our analysis. Each reviewer received standardized guidance for scoring proposals. Naturally, there was some variation in each reviewer’s scores. To normalize the scores we used Z-scores. We include more information about Z-scores below under the section titled, “There were three ways a project idea could advance.” We asked each reviewer to self-identify if they should recuse themselves. The reviewers reported no identified conflicts and no need for recusal.

Each proposal was scored based upon defined criteria

Each project proposal was scored on a 0-100 range based upon the following criteria:

· The project’s alignment to the Office or Agency mission [20 points]

· The proposal’s explanation of the process, product, or system to be addressed. [60 points]

· How well the proposed solution aligns with the communicated problem. [20 points]

Reviewers were also asked if they thought the proposal should be considered to become a finalist. Each reviewer was also asked to provide comments on the proposal to justify their score.

There were three ways a project idea could advance

The following were ways in which a proposal was able to advance:

· The top z-scores overall

· Review Panel unanimously votes to advance it

· Wildcards picked by IDEA Lab staff

Z-scores are used as a way to control differences in reviewer scoring. For instance, out of a score of 100, reviewers on Panel A might score teams at an average of 70, whereas reviewers on Panel B might score teams at an average of 85. In this case, we see that Panel A has harsher reviewing criteria whereas Panel B is less harsh. Now, the raw scores are different, but they both happen to say the same thing – the average. Thus, the Z-score accounts for that variation. Here’s the wikipedia article on z-scores if you’d like to learn more.

While we rely on statistical methods to rank applications, we also recognize that the process shouldn’t be left to math alone. Thus, we have a wildcard slot. Wildcards were picked by Ignite program Directors, Kevin McTigue and Will Yang. We combed through every proposal, rigorously analyzing and fervently debating proposals that we felt were eligible for the wildcard category.

We interviewed 30 teams

During this stage, we further down selected applicants through 25 minute conversations. The applicants were given an opportunity to pitch the Ignite program Directors for 5 minutes and converse for 20 minutes on their problem identified, solution, background for solving the problem, team background, and general clarity of direction.

We selected 14 project ideas for Ignite

We selected 14 teams for the Fall 2017 Ignite Accelerator. This was the most difficult selection process yet, and we are excited to work with those at HHS who are willing to test new ideas to improve the delivery of health and human services. We wish we could have accepted more teams, and hope to do so in the future. To all those who submitted proposals, keep pressing on and innovating to better serve the American people.

Teams Selected

Stop, Collaborate, and Listen!

Submitted by staff from: ACF / Office of Communications

ACF program offices act as independent, autonomous units, with little to no formal communication across channels. Because of this lack of communication, there are lost opportunities in resource sharing, joint process improvement, and employee engagement resulting in differing service delivery and regular duplication of effort. Through collaboration with staff from across the agency, we want to determine which connections (topic, location, job function) are most compelling, and what methods (communications vehicles, spaces for face-to-face work, possibly even restructuring of current management systems) would be most effective for fostering collaboration.

The Team:

Tiffany Pryce, ACF / OC

Claire Blaustein, ACF / OC

Streamlining Poverty Programs

Submitted by staff from: ACF / Office of Regional Operations

Thirteen federal agencies run more than 80 federal programs that provide food, housing, health care, job training, education, energy assistance, and cash to low-income Americans. These programs often lack coordination and have different regulatory requirements, causing inefficacies in their delivery at the state and local level. HHS and specifically ACF house many of these programs and our agency and OpDiv can lead the way for streamlining services and working with states to design systems look at families holistically and create no wrong door of entry. Specifically, we will develop a toolkit for working with States to streamline systems to align and link systems and funding streams.

The Team:

Erica Fleischer, ACF / ORO

Angela Green, ACF /ORO

Christine Quinn, Department of Labor / E&T

A Novel Rapid Reporting & Response Tool to Prevent Opioid Overdose

Submitted by staff from: CDC / NCIPC

The Washington/Baltimore High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (W/B HIDTA) built ODMAP, a surveillance tool that reports suspected overdoses in real time. ODMAP’s surveillance includes an automated, early warning system, alerting public health officials and first responders to a new spike in overdoses as it is unfolding. We seek to integrate ODMAP with regional and local EMS and dispatch systems to supplement data entered by first responders. These analytical resources will allow ODMAP to achieve its full overdose prevention potential, monitoring data in real time across jurisdictions. We also seek to integrate these systems with real-time alerts of ongoing overdose spikes.

The Team:

Aleta Christensen, CDC / NCIPC

Jeff Beeson, W/B HIDTA

Jack Cibor, W/B HIDTA

Building Advanced Molecular Capacity in Global Laboratories

Submitted by staff from: CDC/ NCIRD

Next-generation sequencing (NGS) has transformed detection and surveillance of pathogens. Over the past four years, CDC’s Advanced Molecular Detection (AMD) Initiative has supported a variety of NGS projects, which have led to faster detection and increased resolution for tracking pathogens during outbreaks such as food-borne and novel coronavirus epidemics. As increased globalization gives rise to pandemics, the success demonstrated at CDC using NGS supports using this technology to strengthen laboratory capacity in international settings. In response to requests from the Vietnam Minister of Health for implementing AMD technologies, the United States and Vietnam governments released a joint statement in May affirming support for development of an advanced national reference laboratory in Vietnam. CDC is in a unique position to provide technical support for implementing AMD infrastructure. The main hurdle is to determine the most effective means of transferring AMD methodologies.

The Team:

Rachel Marine, CDC / NCIRD

Arunmozhi Balajeer, CDC / NCIRD

Karen Alroy, CDC / NCIRD

Preparing the U.S. Workforce for an Airborne Pandemic

Submitted by staff from: CDC/ NIOSH

N95 respirators are one of the most important ways the U.S. workforce, including healthcare workers, protect themselves against contagious infections, such as tuberculosis and influenza. To be sure the respirator fits properly and is effective, each worker must have a “fit-test” before wearing it in the workplace. Employers find the fit-testing process to be burdensome and expensive, so typically only a portion of workers are fit-tested, leaving many not knowing what model or size respirator to wear, should they need to protect themselves. Therefore, during a public health emergency, such as the next influenza pandemic, many workers will need to be fit-tested rapidly. However, little is known about how fast fit-testing can be completed. This problem is a critical gap in knowledge that stands to have a major influence on the U.S. resiliency during a public health emergency.

The Team:

Lew Radonovich, CDC / NIOSH

Angela Weber, CDC / NIOSH

Mike Bergman, CDC / NIOSH

From Benchtop to Kitchen Tabletop, Helping Medicare Beneficiaries Access Laboratory Diagnostics

Submitted by staff from: CMS / CCSQ

Barriers of turning biomedical science knowledge to translational tools creates a delay in the time for patient populations, particularly Medicare beneficiaries, to access the best treatment options available, and can cost innovators time that they may otherwise devote to refining the quality of their test or treatment. Slack in the product life cycle can happen at many points, but most pronounced are those periods of waiting while trying to identify the correct decision makers and understand next steps. Just as researchers translate scientific discovery into clinical treatment, we will integrate processes of NIH, FDA and CMS to reduce wait time between Agency decision points. Our new front door for innovators will better coordinate procedures and make available Agency expertise at key transitional nodes.

The Team:

Katherine B. Szarama, CMS / CCSQ / Coverage & Analysis Group

Eunice Lee, FDA

Brandi Kattman, NIH

An Integrated Health Solutions Tool: Exploring the Intersection of Hospital Readmissions and Social Determinants of Health among People with Sickle Cell Disease

Submitted by staff from: CMS and OS / ASPE

Sickle cell disease (SCD) is the most common inherited blood disorder in the United States, affecting over 100,000 Americans at a yearly cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. SCD results in episodic periods of severe pain, leading to high use of health care resources. People with SCD (31.9%) had the highest 30-day all-cause readmission rate among other conditions with high readmission rates. The problem that we aim to tackle is the readmission rates for persons with SCD. We would like to test the idea that (1) the social determinants of health, which are conditions in which people live, learn, work and age, are associated with SCD readmissions among Medicare beneficiaries and (2) screening for these determinants would empower patients and their providers to mitigate the harmful factors which contribute to poor health outcomes and high health-care cost.

The Team:

Shondelle Wilson-Frederick, CMS / OMH

Chazeman Jackson, OS/ASPE

Show me the Money

Submitted by staff from: HRSA / BHW

The Bureau of Health Workforce at HRSA makes over 1,400 grant awards per year and the grant award-making process has more than 20 steps that are currently tracked manually. Staff and Managers cannot easily see the status of awards across the grant award-making process, which makes it harder to proactively manage. We would like to develop a prototype dashboard to actively track the process.

The Team:

Ken Ambrose, HRSA / BHW

Gail Lipton, HRSA / BHW

Melissa Moore, HRSA / BHW

Vipin Sethi, HRSA / BHW

Kourtney Thomas, HRSA / BHW

Developing and Recruiting Physicians for IHS Careers

Submitted by staff from: IHS / Office of Human Resources

The Indian Health Service (IHS) suffers from significant physician shortages in many of its service units and currently has no formal training program for its providers to understand IHS’ unique needs. A clinical fellowship, including formal training in quality improvement and physician leadership, would be an ideal method of attracting physicians into IHS as well as providing the training necessary for successful practice within IHS. Developing a training program will supply a pipeline of qualified, trained clinicians for IHS who can effectively provide high-quality care at IHS.

The Team:

Paul Jung, IHS / OHR

Francine Barnett, IHS / OHR

Angele Mtungwa, IHS / OHR

Real-time Sepsis Screening and Provider Notification Using the Electronic Health Record

Submitted by staff from: IHS / Northern Cheyenne Service Unit

The current Electronic Health Record (EHR) used by the Indian Health Service has no known capability to warn healthcare providers when a cluster of vital signs metrics collected on a patient indicate the possibility of sepsis in real-time. This is detrimental to patient safety and quality of care and places an unnecessarily high financial burden on the service units where these patients seek care. This project aims to improve the EHR to make it possible for the EHR to: 1) analyze heart rate, temperature, blood pressure, respiratory rate and Oxygen Saturation measurements against preset normal values, 2) Analyze the abnormal values within the context of a sepsis screening tool; e.g., MEWS, qSOFA, etc. 3) provide real-time notification to healthcare providers if the combination of abnormal vital signs entered are indicative of sepsis.

The Team:

Nathan Moyer, IHS / Northern Cheyenne Service Unit

Tristan Goodluck, IHS / Northern Cheyenne Service Unit

ACTIV Collaborative Business Development

Submitted by staff from: NIH / NCATS

It is critical to efficiently commercialize all available R&Ds originated from NIH funding across our country, but many innovative NIH awardees outside the major biotech hubs experience systematic disadvantages to attract the essential corporate partnerships and investments. By forging an alliance among NIH awardees with an online business development platform to collaboratively engage corporate partners/investors and promote commercialization, we hope to enhance HHS support for translational and clinical innovations. This project aims to forge among NIH awardees an “Advanced Clinical and Translational Innovation Ventures (ACTIV)” alliance and create an online collaborative business development platform, enabling a searchable catalog for ACTIV partnerships/investments, collaborative partner/investor engagement/networking, and pitch competitions to market promising start-ups/ventures to corporate partners/investors.

The Team:

Timothy Hsiao, NIH / NCATS / DCI

Olga Brazhnik, NIH / NCATS / DCI

Adaptation of Agile Methodologies to Rare Diseases Drug Development

Submitted by staff from: NIH / NCATS

There are an estimated 7000 rare diseases that affect 25 million Americans, most of which have unmet medical needs. Rare disease drug development presents many challenges, such as small populations for clinical study, poorly understood diseases, few disease experts, and financial impediments to investment, among others. New approaches to expedite rare disease research through basic and translational phases and into the clinic are needed, as well as novel clinical designs to assess the efficacy of candidate therapeutics. The IT industry has adopted “agile” software development practices that use incremental and iterative methods to encourage adaptive planning, evolutionary development, continuous improvement, and rapid and flexible response to change. We propose adapting agile practices from the IT industry to rare disease drug development.

The Team:

Anne Pariser, NIH / NCATS

Tiina Urv, NIH / NCATS

Develop your B.R.E.E.D.! (Breeding Rodents Efficiently & Effortlessly by Design)

Submitted by staff from: NIH / NIDA (Baltimore)

Researchers at the NIH are using hundreds of thousands of rodents (mice and rats) per year and an increasing portion of these animals are genetically modified models (lines). Because of the rarity and/or the high cost of such animals, most of these models are bred at the institutes using them. Such decentralized practices are very time consuming for the researchers. Apart from these usual decentralized breeding practices, NIDA (National Institute of Drug Abuse) has an efficient centralized breeding program where a handful of trained breeder specialists are taking care of the breeding and maintenance of all the rodent lines for the whole institute. Based on that model, this project will try to create a support resource to help other NIH institutes to implement their own centralized breeding programs.

The Team:

Francois Vautier, NIH / NIDA (Baltimore)

Smokefree.gov Personal Assistant

Submitted by staff from: OS / ASPA

The National Cancer Institute’s Smokefree.gov Program has created many mobile health resources to help people quit smoking. Emerging artificial intelligence (AI) technology can interact with the user in ways that SMS and other platforms cannot. We want to test if we can positively influence behavior by having Smokefree.gov interact with the consumer in different and more direct ways. The human-like virtual assistant would be able to encourage you, quiz you, advise you and motivate you when you slip.

The Team:

Coqui Aspiazu, OS/ ASPA

Amy Sanders, OS/ ASPA

Tessa Heydinger, OS/ ASPA

Health Datapalooza 2017 – The Data Revolution Rolls On

In 2009, a small group gathered for the first Health Datapalooza with the hope of spurring data transparency throughout the health care system and thus innovation. The concept was initially conceived as the Community Health Data Initiative and is described above

Themes for the 8th annual Health Datapalooza include consumer market places, value based care and health care redesign through data

The 8th annual Health Datapalooza returns on April 26 – 28 and offers a re-imagined vision of health and health care through the lens of data. In years past, Health Datapalooza has set its sights on health-care startups, apps, big data, electronic health records – you name it – but the main thrust was always more about the business of health care and how tech and data are used to innovate.

The annual conference for data geeks, developers, health tech venture capitalists, and start-up wannabes, among others, will this year triangulate around the idea that the patient should be at the center of health care.  Consumers are increasingly interested in the choices and options available to them, and want more control over decisions about their choice of providers, health care interventions and decisions about healthy foods and activities. Patients want these choices to be more integrated into their lifestyles.

This year, Health Datapalooza, powered by Academy Health, HHS, and others, is targeting a number of patient-centered themes to help patients become informed consumers. There will be opportunities at Health Datapalooza to learn how big data, analytics, cyber tools and tech can improve care and help improve outcomes. Speakers at the conference will be talking about the consumer/provider interaction experience and how it is being transformed by technology – think telemedicine or how value-based care programs have helped reduce hospital readmissions. The agenda includes sessions devoted to “Patients as Co-Pilots,” the “Empowered Patient,” and the “Consumer Marketplace.” Patient-generated health data, patient matching, patient portals, and patients as “co-pilots;” are front and center at this year’s conference. There are also a number of sessions devoted to privacy and security in health data, a perennial focus.

But merely making data available isn’t enough. One of the purposes of Health Datapalooza has always been to identify areas for innovation. The conference serves as an open platform for engaging people who have bold ideas on the use of health data and enlisting them to help revamp how patient data is contributed – by and for patients – and used to innovate.

Don’t Miss Out On…

Two New Challenges Will Be Announced

  • HHS will launch a new data challenge, The Healthy Behavior Data Challenge as a collaboration with the Public Health Authority-Canada, and the CDC and the HHS IDEA Lab’s own Sandeep Patel will be on hand at the HHS IDEA Lab booth to answer your questions about what that is all about.
  • Patient matching – a thorny challenge that centers on ensuring that the electronic data on hand matches up exactly to the patient in the examination room – is the target of the second challenge, the HHS-HIMSS Patient Matching Challenge.

International Delegations

  • Health ministers and delegates from eight countries around the world are working together to establish common principles for the use of health data, and enable the establishment of a global business platform for applying health systems data to spark innovation technology and business solutions. At HHS, we are working internationally to foster economic development and help facilitate innovation, surmount boundaries, cross borders and enable electronic health data to be available when and where it’s needed.

Code-a-thon on April 26th

  • HHS is contributing to an off-site code-a-thon with partners at 1776, so there will be ample opportunity for developers and data entrepreneurs to test and modify new ideas to help patients.

Check out the IDEA Lab at the Exhibition Hall

  • The IDEA Lab staff and a number of HHS innovators and Entrepreneurs in Residence will be on site at the IDEA Lab’s booth in the Exhibitor Hall at the conference. Follow the IDEA Lab on Twitter (@HHSIDEALab) for updates on speakers and events at the IDEA Lab booth.

My Experience at HDP

We created Health Datapalooza in 2009 from the simple idea that transparency and exchange of data throughout the health care system would unleash massive innovation.  Together, we have shaped this event into a platform for catalyzing change by dialogue, testing of new ideas and technologies, providing context to the value of health care and incentivizing business development at the leading edge of the new health economy. Using data as the fuel for innovation, Health Datapalooza stands today as a dynamic symbol for a vibrant, value-based ecosystem that was imagined nearly a decade ago. In the diagram above, we tried to describe this effort.  As a founder of this data-enabled movement for health-care system innovation, I can see the remarkable culture change that has come about through the liberation of data.  Now, let us continue the revolution of data-powered innovation to shape the new frontier of health and health care in America. ¡Viva la Revolución!

Editor’s Note: There’s still time to join us at the Washington Hilton for Health Datapalooza 2017. Sign up now!