HHS contest enlists software developers to design app for women's health

With the Reducing Cancer Among Women of Color App Challenge underway, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services has widened its healthcare-tech scope to incorporate underserved women of various cultural backgrounds in the information war being waged against cancer.

In the form of a contest, HHS has asked technology entrepreneurs to create an application for mobile devices aimed at educating minority women about the latest cancer prevention and treatment tactics. Ideally, the app should engage women of all racial and ethnic backgrounds who are downtrodden by health disparity. HHS stresses this necessity to reach groups of women who may otherwise not connect with traditional media sources as paramount to the continuing development of healthy communities. The winning application will address these wants effectively whilst presenting relevant and compelling content.

“This app challenge is an example of our work to reduce health disparities, building on the HHS Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities,” J. Nadine Gracia, MD, MSCE, acting deputy assistant secretary for minority health, said in a news release. “By providing the right information at the right time, mobile apps can help minority and underserved women make informed decisions about their own health and benefit from the recommended preventive services provided at no cost under the healthcare law.”

The National Cancer Institute reports that, each year, more than 300,000 new cases of breast, cervical, uterine and ovarian cancer are diagnosed. Facts also find that discrepancies in prevention, early treatment, quality of care, outcomes, and mortality are far more likely to occur among minority and underserved women despite the aforementioned cancers affects being fairly widespread.

“It’s important for women to have information about what they can do to prevent or treat cancer,” said David R. Hunt, MD, FACS, a medical director in the HHS Office of National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) in a news release. “Through the use of smartphone and computer apps, women and the community health workers on whom they depend for healthcare information will be able to have information they need – and in many cases, at their fingertips.”

HHS dictates that the winning app will:

  • provide users with general, accessible information about preventive and screening services for breast and gynecologic cancers – in different languages and in culturally appropriate contexts;
  • communicate with patient health records or provider-sponsored patient portals in a secure way that protects patient privacy and that will provide specific reminders and trigger electronic health record-based clinical decision support about preventive services;
  • support the secure storage, viewing and exchange of complex patient care plans in a way that protects patient privacy while strengthening communications between a patient’s care team that may be located across a large geographic area, such as a local clinician being able to work with a regional cancer center in a major metropolitan area; and
  • support patient engagement and caregiver support by helping patients and their caregivers keep track of complex care plans with a particular emphasis on connections to community health workers, such as promotores de salud.

The first place winner of the Reducing Cancer Among Women of Color App Challenge will receive $85,000. The second place prize will be $10,000 and third prize will be $5,000.

The challenge, issued on Aug. 24, was formed from the partnership between the ONC and the HHS Office of Minority Health.

Find more information about the challenge here.

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