Here come the healthcare apps

A look at the applications -- and the big opportunities -- showcased at the Community Health Data Forum.

“People in communities can improve their healthcare if they just have the information to do it,” said Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), at the Community Health Data Forum in D.C. last week.

The forum took place almost exactly a decade after President Clinton announced he would unscramble global positioning system data (GPS) for civilian use. Now, the potential for private enterprise to provision services using open data from the Community Health Data Initiative could match the billions of dollars made when the government unlocked GPS and NOAA weather data. Last week, in fact, I wrote about how HHS is making community health information as useful as weather data.

Sebelius delivered her remarks to both an online audience at and the collection of government officials, technologists and researchers gathered at the Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Science. Her speech is embedded below.

After the jump, learn more about the healthcare apps that were featured at the forum’s showcase.

Apps that use open health data

Health IT at OSCON 2010I covered the healthcare apps developed by National Association of Counties (NACO), GE, Bing, Healthways and Google last week.

Glimpses of a nascent ecosystem of innovation around community health data were on further display in the apps at the Community Health Data Forum. The selections included games, visualizations, web services, crowdsourcing platforms, and smartphone software.

Walking around the expo, I learned about the following apps:

  •, an interactive database that provides state- and country-level health data.
  •, an in-development iPhone app that engages healthcare practitioners about drug safety alerts
  •, an interactive website for describing the overall health of a community
  •, a web-based mapping platform that mashes up community and health resource data. It includes a HIPAA-compliant means for uploading patient information.

The following are six different apps / web services that also caught my eye at the forum.

Finding connections with Palantir

analyzetheus.jpgPalantir wowed the crowd in the main hall with its tech demonstration, which can be viewed in the video embedded above. Alex Fishman, an engineer, also announced at the forum that Palantir had integrated community health data into Analyze The US, a web application that allows citizens, researchers and government officials to explore community health data. A video comparing Medicare quality to Medicare spending — an example of this tool in use — is available at Palantir’s Government data analysis blog.

Game mechanics and health data

scvngr.jpgCommunity Clash isn’t the only game that’s using community health data: SCVNGR combines the location-based technology that has become familiar to many through Foursquare and Gowalla with specific challenges to earn points. SCVNGR provides a platform for organizations to build games upon. To date, more than 550 institutions in 44 states and 20 countries have taken them up on the opportunity as clients, including museums, conferences, universities and cities.

John Valentine, SCVNGR’s conference and events manager, says that SCVNGR now has more than 20 million locations in its system and is being downloaded thousands of times daily from the iTunes and Android app stores. In D.C., SCVNGR will be a part of the upcoming Digital Capital Week.

Medicare data gets mapped

The Community Health Map is being used by HHS internally to visualize and organize data, says Sohit Karol, a PhD student in the kinesthesiology department of the University of Maryland. The video below provides an overview of the core features of Community Health Map, a web application for visualizing Medicare datasets.

The tool was developed as a part of a course on Information Visualization at the University of Maryland. More information on the project is available through the class wiki.

iTriage puts hospitals in patients’ hands

itriage.jpgThe iTriage app combines open health data with a large database of symptoms and a directory of healthcare service providers. A pair of emergency physicians, Peter Hudson and Wayne Guerra, developed iTriage to empower consumers to make better decisions.

“People are making bad decisions with third-party information,” said Hudson at the expo. “The people making those decisions are costing the system money, mostly because they don’t have the tools they need to understand.”

Now, users can get quality reports on doctors, research symptoms, click to see nearby healthcare facilities and, where available, view emergency room wait times. “We’re seeing a high level of engagement,” said Hudson. “With people using it to find doctors, hospitals and pharmacists. We’ve seen 2 million page views on mobile already.” Hudson said an iTriage API is in development.

Pillbox turns FDA drug label data into a platform

pillbox-screenshot.jpgPillbox, an open data initiative developed within the National Library of Medicine and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), makes pill identification easier. Pillbox lets developers build applications for the web and smartphones through an open API.

David Hale, Pillbox’s project manager, says a call to a poison control center for a pharmaceutical identification costs $45. With Pillbox and a web browser, that cost can be substantially reduced.

Hale explains more in this video from the USP Annual Scientific Meeting in September 2009:

Asthmapolis crowdsources better health for asthma patients

asthmapolis-screenshot.jpgAsthmapolis has developed a specialized device called a “Spiroscout” that, when attached to an asthma inhaler, uses GPS to track use, and share the time and location of symptoms.

Asthmapolis aggregates the data voluntarily provided by users and gives it to physicians, scientists and health agencies. The goal is to identify environmental exposures that trigger attacks. Asthmapolis has released a web app and its building a mobile phone diary and website for later release to the public.


The opportunities in healthcare IT will be explored at the upcoming OSCON conference. Learn more about OSCON’s health track here.

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