Sunday, November 16, 2014

Health innovations take center stage at APHA codeathon

When it comes to technology, no one is immune to change, including public health professionals. And this weekend, a group of such professionals joined together with developers, coders and designers to find new ways to guide those changes and ultimately benefit the public’s health.

Held Nov. 13-14 in New Orleans, the second annual APHA Public Health Codeathon challenged participants to create apps, tools and other technological innovations that connect place and health, tying into the Annual Meeting theme of “Healthography: How Where You Live Affects Your Health and Well-Being.” Sponsors of the event included Esri, Validic and the California Healthcare Foundation.

Participants spent two days brainstorming, forming teams and turning their ideas into reality. They also heard from a lineup of health information technology leaders, such as Allen Dearry, director of the Office of Scientific Information Management at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and Karen DeSalvo, national coordinator for health information technology and acting assistant secretary for health.

Americans are eager to take advantage of technology that can help them stay healthy, especially data they can access on their own and that follows them seamlessly through the health care system, DeSalvo said. She encouraged public health professionals to provide feedback on a new federal IT strategic plan that will be released in December.

“We want to create a better picture of health for people,” she said.

Codeathon attendees rose to the event’s challenge, submitting nine presentations to a team of judges Saturday. Four teams took home prizes for their innovations, with a team from the University of Maryland earning three honors, including the Social Impact Prize. The Maryland team created a tool called Healthy Actionable Behavioral-Based Informational Technology — also know as HABIT. The tool uses data from health devices, electronic health records and other sources to map health measures.

Other winners included the Hospital Readmissions Dashboard, which helps hospitals follow up with patients for 30 days after they’ve been discharged to prevent readmissions, and the Empowerment app, which is designed to help youth in foster care transition into adulthood.

Another winner, the Food Recovery App, marries geolocation services with volunteers willing to collect unwanted excess food and deliver it to those who can use it. The smartphone-based app is modeled after on-demand car services that allow users to summon rides from nearby drivers.

Modeling the app after a platform that smartphone users are familiar with may make it more appealing to them, said Khusdeep Malhotra, who submitted the app.

“Hopefully, people will be inspired through their social networks to do something good,” Malhotra said.

Annual Meeting attendees get their chance to decide which codeathon innovations they think deserved to win on Sunday morning. Meeting attendees are invited to hear about the projects created in the codeathon, ask questions and vote for their favorites from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. in room 343 at the convention center.

“A lot of hours were spent on how they can make an impact on health delivery and make health care more accessible,” said John Yaist, a technology evangelist at Esri. “I’m always kind of amazed by what they come up with.”

— M.L.

Above photos from top to bottom: The University of Maryland codeathon team celebrates their win; Karen DeSalvo, U.S. acting assistant secretary for health and national coordinator for health information technology, speaks to codeathon attendees; and two codeathon participants fine tune their innovation. Photos by Michele Late, courtesy APHA Flickr

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