by: Perry W. Payne, MD/JD/MPP

The Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Engineering is sponsoring a Second Annual Health Data Collegiate Challenge. The theme is “Go Viral to Improve Health.”

The competition offers $18,000 in total prize money to undergraduate or graduate students who work in interdisciplinary teams (engineering and health related fields) to create apps that use existing DHHS health data to “engage and empower people in ways that lead to better health.”

Teams can register for the competition from November 1, 2011 through March 2, 2012. After completing the registration, teams are invited to submit their final app. Final apps must be submitted by March 28, 2012 at noon with a winner being recognized in June. Any teams entering should be aware of the business implications of entering and winning the competition. Teams who win are consenting to licensing and distribution of the app free of charge to the public for one year. They are also granting the sponsors a royalty-free, non-exclusive, worldwide license to use and display publicly the submitted materials for one year after the announcement of the winners.

What Do Sponsors Expect?

The sponsors stated that teams should identify a health problem in the college’s surrounding community. They do not define what is meant by community and based on last year’s winners the college campus is one possible community. The teams must be interdisciplinary and consist of 2 to 5 currently enrolled college or university students at the undergraduate or graduate level.

Teams must develop a website or mobile app to address the health problem of interest. Whatever app is developed to address the health problem, it should use data from the HHS Health Indicators Warehouse and other related data sources. Sponsors encourage the use of de-identified data. When submitting the app, teams have to also provide a PowerPoint presentation describing it. Teams must also demonstrate how the app will engage people in the surrounding community to promote action that will improve health.


This challenge, unlike numerous others, has very limited eligibility criteria. Teams can contain only undergraduate or graduate students who are enrolled in a United States college or university. The sponsors do not state that the students need to be citizens of the US. They need to be enrolled in a college or university at the beginning of the challenge and when the app is submitted. The team must include 2 to 5 people and no more or less.

The team must be interdisciplinary with at least one team member from an engineering, computer science, or similar school, program, or major. Also, at least one team member must be from a medical, nursing, public health, dental, pharmacy, allied health or similar school, program, or major.

The second requirement is more difficult and is not clear given that a number of these programs are only available at the graduate level and don’t exist at many schools throughout the country. What is not clear is whether a person who is a biology pre-med meets this standard or not. Also, a two member team would need to include these two people since all teams must have at least these two members. Other members can have any major.

There are more eligibility standards which limit the pool of people who can apply. Students can only be a part of one team. Initially, the sponsors stated that all team members must be from the same school, but after further questioning by potential competitors, they modified this rule so that teams can include people from different universities. Teams must have a faculty adviser. Details concerning eligibility and the registration or submission process, can be found here.

Selecting Winners

A panel of five judges will review the apps including two academics (one from UCLA and one from UNC, Chapel Hill), two people from industry (one from Google and one from Heritage Provider Network), and the Chief Technology Officer for the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The apps will judged on a 100 point scale using the following criteria:

  1. Integration of Health Data (35 points) – Teams have to integrate data from the HHS Health Indicators Warehouse into their apps. They will be judged on how well the app integrates data from this source. Teams have to clearly indicate which data sets are being used in their apps
  2. Design and Usability (25 points) –Apps will be rated on how user-friendly they are and their interactivity. They will also be assessed on their ability to become popular or “go viral” based on their connections to different forms of social networking, SMS text messaging, and email. Apps that are easily accessible on a variety of platforms will be scored higher.
  3. Creativity and Innovation (20 points)– Judges will assess how novel the apps is and what they state as “creativity shown in designing for impact.” Teams should seek more clarity on the latter statement.
  4. Potential for Impact (20 points)–Judges will use some unstated methodology to determine whether the app has potential to improve the health of individuals and/or communities. They will also assess whether the further development of the app will render it useful for different health issues.

For more clarity on any of these criteria, teams can contact administrators of the competition at 202-334-1248 or by email at  There’s also a Facebook site.

Prize Money

Three prizes will be awarded for this challenge. They are as follows:

  • First place: $10,000 prize, plus an on-stage live presentation of their app, and an exhibit at the forum expo. (first prize award is sponsored by Heritage Provider Network)
  •  Second place: $5,000 prize, plus an exhibit at the forum expo
  • Third place: $3,000 prize, plus an exhibit at the forum expo.

The winners will be formally recognized at the Health Data Initiative Forum III: The Health Datapaloozaon June 5-6, 2012, in Washington, D.C. Prize money will be equally divided among team members. In addition, winning teams will receive $1,000 for assistance with travel costs to the event.