Health Datapalooza takes the pulse of mHealth

Curious about where mHealth and Health 2.0 innovations are headed? Check out the third annual Health Data Initiative Forum, aka Health Datapalooza, next June 5–6, in Washington, D.C.
Sponsored by the Health Data Initiative (a public-private collaboration founded by the Institute of Medicine and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), the program has launched a large number of innovative mHealth and Health 2.0 apps, products and services in recent years. Participants often take the open health data made available by the Health Data Initiative and combine it with other sources of information to create sustainable business models.
As Todd Park, chief technology officer of HHS, said, “If your faith in America is wavering, just go to our website on last year’s event and watch a few of the fifty presentations from entrepreneurs who participated. It is an incredible display of American mojo and ingenuity.”
The Health Datapalooza has an open call for speakers (deadline is March 30). Similar to a Tedx health data event, entrepreneurs have the opportunity to discuss their best products and services on stage. Last year’s event had far more applicants than the 50 slots available for the final round, and teams had to compete in an American Idol-style face-off.
Some past participants in the Health Datapalooza have already hit VC pay dirt. Founded by Chris Hogg, 100Plus has raised 1.25 million in venture capital so far. The startup is a personalized health-prediction platform that uses data analytics and game mechanics to show you how small changes in behavior can lead to big changes in health outcomes. At least part of the data driving this business is from the catalog.
Many mHealth apps require active monitoring by patients, and sustainable use of apps is a big barrier. Former Health Datapalooza competitor created a platform that offers a potential way around this. Its mobile platform turns the phone into a sensor via passive monitoring and human-centered design. This passive monitoring may help predict flare-ups and enable early intervention, which could in turn prevent costly hospitalizations, not to mention debilitating outcomes. Developed at MIT, the startup has been generating quite a bit of excitement after winning the Sanofi U.S. Data Design Diabetes Innovation Challenge.
The Health Data Initiative — the organization behind all this activity — was inspired by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s decision nearly three decades ago to release their data sets to the public. That decision resulted in a burst of innovations — including forecasts, mobile applications, websites, research and a multi-billion dollar weather industry. For its part, the HHS wanted to create a health-data version of NOAA’s weather data — and it hoped to seed a similar crop of new applications through its open data initiatives.
With access to the federal government’s vast data collections, HHS publishes information on a range of topics, including hospital quality performance, community health, FDA recalls, and the latest medical and scientific knowledge from the National Library of Medicine. Previously published data in PDF format or in books is converted into formats that are machine-readable. These formats include APIs so that third party developers can use the information without any intellectual property constraints. There is now a catalog of health data available at
Roughly 95 percent of the potential entrepreneur pool doesn’t know that these vast stores of data exist, so the HHS is working to increase awareness through the Health Data Initiative. The results have been astounding. Numerous companies, including Google and Microsoft, have held health-data code-a-thons and Health 2.0 developer challenges. These have produced applications in a fraction of the time it has historically taken. Applications for understanding and managing chronic diseases, finding the best healthcare provider, locating clinical trials and helping doctors find the best specialist for a given condition have been built based on the open data available through the initiative.
In addition to the Health Datapalooza, the Health Data Initiative hosts other events which have spawned more health innovators. RockHealth, a Health 2.0 incubator, launched at its SXSW 2011 White House Startup America Roundtable. In the wake of these successful events, StartUp Health, a network of health startup incubators, entrepreneurs and investors, was created. The organization is focused on building a robust ecosystem that can support entrepreneurs in the health and wellness space.
If you’re wondering what role government can play in innovation, the Health Data Initiative Forum is your answer. The organization is sparking entrepreneurship and proving that there is great value in open government and open innovation.
Jody Ranck is a health technology and policy expert who has worked in global and domestic health contexts for more than 20 years. He has written numerous analyst reports on health technologies for GigaOM Pro. Currently, he is working on a book about connected health.
Image of Banksy painting courtesy of Flickr user El Payo.