News // February 22, 2014

Tech Savvy Teams Compete to Bring Public Health Data to Local Communities

Three years ago Jerry Hanby had a minor stroke that left him worried and confused.  He knew he needed to improve his health, but he didn’t know where to go to find support and local heart healthy resources.  Inspired by his own health concerns, Hanby came up with an idea for a mobile application that uses public health data and geo-fencing to map local resources for improved heart health – farmer’s markets, walking paths, and heart healthy meals.  Hanby is one of more than 40 coders and developers who have gathered at the County Operations Center for this weekend’s Code-a-Thon.

“I came here today because I like data-thons,” said Hanby.  “I was working on beta testing some geo-targeting for couponing - how to find deals in your area.  But I started thinking about my story with my stroke and how to use that same technology for something bigger.  I saw the Code-a-Thon event posted and knew this was something important – to use the latest tools and public health data to inspire people to live healthier lives.”

The Code-a-Thon is a two-day sprint for individuals and teams to pull together ideas of how to use regional health data to improve public health through mobile and/or web-based technology.  The goal is for the participating teams to develop tools that support healthier communities and help residents lead healthier lives.  Participants come from diverse backgrounds including business, strategic planning, design, data management, health care and other related fields with a passion for creating tools that harness data to improve lives.

“I wanted to be a doctor, but then life took place and that never happened.  But I have always had a very persistent desire to address health issues,“ said participant Charlie Ukwu. “With Obamacare, people for the first time are beginning to pay attention to health behaviors and prevention, which spiked my interest even more.  I’ve been working in technology for nearly 40 years and anything that allows me to put those two things [health and data] together is of interest to me.  So I’m here, as much as to learn, but also to be part of creating the information that makes San Diego healthier.”

Participant Harish Raju registered for Code-a-Thon at 1 a.m. this morning.  He knew – so long as he was able to wake up in time - that it would be worth spending his weekend here - looking at health data and developing tools for prevention.  

“I work in the high tech industry. When I was younger, I always had an interest in community service.  I was part of a community organization and we adopted a hospice – that really altered my life experience about care.  I am very interested in the intersection of technology and social issues.  Especially right now with health care, especially in the US as a nation, we have to take a hard look.  There’s a lot of emotion around healthcare right now.  The question, to me, is how can we work together, to be part of the solution and change our focus. We need to focus more on prevention – better behaviors, better habits.  How can we help people live healthier lives? And reward them for being healthier? We can reduce the cost of healthcare through prevention. So we’re here today thinking about how to use the data to do this.”

The County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) is partnering with theCalifornia HealthCare Foundation and Health 2.0 to host the Code-a-Thon weekend.

“There is a lot of data about health-related issues we make available to the public now,” said HHSA Director Nick Macchione. “But our challenge to participants is to take that available data and develop a tool or application that inspires action, from policy development to personal lifestyle choices.”

Educating residents to make healthy choices is one of the primary goals of Live Well San Diego, the County’s ongoing initiative to improve the health and safety of residents.

The County’s partnering sponsors for Code-a-Thon have committed $20,000 in total cash prizes that will be split among designers of the top six software tools created. The first-place winner will receive $9,000, second place will receive $5,000, third place will receive $3,000 and three runners-up will receive $1,000 each.

Says Raju; “I am grateful for the opportunity to be here.  I want to acknowledge and thank the County of San Diego for the hard work they have done to pull together this excellent data.  Now we, as the participants, have the easier challenge of designing the tools to make the research more user friendly.”

The event is being held until 9 p.m. today and from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. tomorrow. The location is the Campus Center Chambers and Commons Café at the County Operations Center, 5520 Overland Drive, San Diego 92123.

For more information, visit the Health 2.0 Developer Challenge or read the story on County News Center.

Jerry Hanby works on the design of his geo-fencing mobile app
HHSA Data Expert, Ryan Smith (center) consults with participants Charlie Ukwu (left) and Harish Raju (right)
Supervisor Ron Roberts welcomes participants to the Code-a-Thon
From left: Nick Macchione, HHSA Director; Jenn Stone, Health 2.0; Julie Howell, HHSA Senior Health Policy Advisor; Xavier Leonard, Civic Innovation Lab; Andy Krackov, California HealthCare Foundation
Gary Knight, San Diego Futures Foundation, with Helen Robbins-Meyer, County Chief Administrative Officer
From right front: Ryan Smith, Leslie Ray and Alicia Sampson with the County of San Diego Community Health Statistics Unit
Participants are introduced to the data set
Participants get to work designing innovative tools using local data