We wanted to give our readers a sense of the leadership of HDC: who they are, how they got involved, and what they’re excited about. This post is the first in this series; we’re starting with Dwayne Spradlin, CEO of InnoCentive and a member of HDC’s Executive Committee.
How did you and InnoCentive become involved with HDC? What’s your current role?
InnoCentive is one of the leading firms active in the field of open innovation, and we work with commercial, government, and foundation clients to connect them to problem-solvers all over the world. When President Obama signed the America Competes Act reauthorization a few years ago, it created an excitement in Washington and elsewhere that open innovation and crowdsourcing could play an powerful role in solving problems in a variety of areas. We invested considerable time educating and building awareness of the power of this approach in DC. Through that process, I was fortunate enough to meet with the folks at HHS and began to realize how forward-thinking and visionary their thinking was in this area – driven by inspired leaders like Todd Park and Greg Downing and many others. Through my work envisioning how these programs could operate, they asked me to be part of the Executive Committee, and I’m continuing to serve on the committee now.
What’s the most exciting thing about being involved with HDC?
That’s simple: working with people from government, foundations, and industry to put in place what will ultimately be a public and private sector partnership to help ignite a healthcare data revolution, powered by immensely valuable data assets to improve human health. Thankfully, HHS and visionary organizations like the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) are showing real leadership here. Just being part of the group that’s putting the foundation of that economy in place is very exciting.
Has HDC changed since it was first envisioned?
Like most ambitious programs, there has been refinement, but the vision has been remarkably consistent from the very beginning. The big questions are being examined: How do we use health care information to inspire new and exciting uses of data that improve healthcare outcomes for Americans? How can we make data more readily available for entrepreneurs, companies, and public health officials? How do we best unleash this creativity and inventiveness in the shortest time possible? This is where our energy is focused now – answering questions like those and operationalizing the vision.
Fortunately, we have powerful channels for ideas and feedback that are helping to shape our approach. Two examples are top of mind for me: 1) the terrifically successful Datapalooza 2012 has provided incredibly insightful feedback from industry and government; and 2) the Advisory Board we have assembled – luminaries from several different areas of healthcare startups and nonprofit organizations – have brought great ideas to the table.
Of course, the details will evolve as we learn more, involve more, and apply different approaches. This group is enthusiastic and motivated. We know the stakes and are intent on making a difference!
What will be HDC’s biggest impact in the next five years?
In my view, the goal of HDC is to create an environment that reduces the “friction” in the system today: friction that makes it difficult for healthcare organizations to easily access data to find new insights, friction that limits new startups from identifying data sources and partners which could result in novel applications, and friction that stands between data providers and data consumers – red tape, disparate data standards, and lack of coordination. Our job is to make sure that this friction is reduced and that healthcare data is “liberated” and put to work. By reducing that friction, HDC will help ensure that the priceless terabytes of healthcare data out there from a myriad of sources translate into improved healthcare outcomes. We’ll measure this in internet time and expect that we should be able to track real impact and have some documented successes in 2-3 years or sooner – new startups, exciting consumer and commercial applications, an ecosystem of partnerships, and more.
Why is it important to get the private sector involved?
The private sector has always been an ocean of creativity and capital and a principal driver of innovation for this country. If we can ignite the private sector, they will create new ideas and brilliant products – and importantly, they will get those products to market and into the hands of those who can benefit.
Can you give an example of a great open health data challenge that InnoCentive has run?
One of my favorite examples is Cleveland Clinic’s Prediction Challenge, which has been successfully solved. The Cleveland Clinic had an algorithm that could predict the outcome for cancer patients based on microarray data taken from biopsied tumors. Their algorithm was accurate but too slow – they measured performance in calendar weeks, which is hardly helpful for someone who needs to act on a medical prognosis. We ran a data challenge to improve the efficiency of the code while maintaining accuracy. It turns out that the winning solution improves both accuracy and efficiency, and predicts accurate outcomes in a matter of minutes using the same input data. The overall improvement is on the order of 3000% (yes, three thousand percent) versus the previous gold standard.
Another example with “big data” is a challenge we ran with the Economist. We wanted to find clever ways to use open data sources to make a place better to live. As a twist, we asked Solvers to deliver their ideas as compelling visualizations using real open data, so that we could move beyond a “gut feeling” on the data and actually see how data could be broadcasted into someone’s personal life and influence them to change behavior. The winner was from Kiev, Ukraine, which evidently has the worst air pollution of major cities in that part of the world. He showed how distributed sensor systems could monitor air pollution to enable citizens to both reduce their own emissions, and to avoid areas that happen to be bad at any given time (e.g., one hot spot was a notoriously busy intersection during rush hours).
Why should startups care about open data? What are the opportunities for startups related to open data?
Entrepreneurs and startups are looking for opportunities to have big impact and to create upside for themselves and their investors. One of the ways they can do that is by taking on really big problems in niche areas; another is by targeting solutions that can be developed for very broad markets. There is a multitude of businesses to be founded in healthcare data. And with the size of healthcare spending in the US, startups and investors understand that potential. They just need the tools and to be set free to do what they do best. As HDC works to take the friction out of the system, they’re really taking away cost and risk for entrepreneurs. If I was a startup entrepreneur interested in this space and looking for my next big project, I’d be looking right here.
I think startups should look to HDC to ensure that there’s an environment where they can find and get data that is known to be accurate and secure. Where they can learn and explore. The role of the HDC is critically important to establishing that spark that starts the process.
What are a few areas where you expect to see breakthrough through the use of healthcare data?
One of them is in the realm of “big data” and correlating information with health outcomes. There is a treasure trove of information out there, but it is locked up in databases and in computers in many different places and many different formats by thousands of different organizations. What insights are in all that data? This is about answering questions like: what surprising correlations can we find between incidence of disease and other factors? Are there common, but previously unrecognized, threads of behavior that have very real and meaningful consequences for health? By lowering the friction and inspiring data consumers to look for patterns and new insights, we’ll make possible new breakthroughs. This may also help create needs for new data sets to further improve our understandings.
Just as exciting, though, is the translation of those brilliant insights into new products and services. Imagine smartphone apps that use these new findings to help alert users that they may be particularly sensitive to environmental factors in an area in which they are visiting. Or new information products that help direct patients to providers and healthcare options based on more sophisticated analysis of the data than is available today. Or better policies that help ensure smart healthcare options are available to more people backed by a more unified and holistic understand of claims, outcomes, and socioeconomic data available.
I’m riffing here, but the possibilities are boundless.