Social solutions best high tech in Sanofi contest
“I think we were definitely outliers. Most folks who tend to go into these types of innovation challenges tend to be entrepreneurial in nature and we're kind of an outlier in that we're a nonprofit organization partnering with another entity,” winner n4a's Courtney Baldridge told MM&M.
The winning proposal is to create n4a Diabetes Care Centers, which the nonprofit and its partners, the National Minority Quality Forum and the National Health Index, entered into the competition (n4a stands for National Association of Area Agencies).
On the surface, the idea is simple: staff local centers with diabetes counselors and specialists so patients can walk in and get information about how to manage their diabetes. These centers will help identify what's coming between patients and their medical regimens, and then come up with solutions. “Each person has their own unique barriers. It's not one size fits all,” Baldridge said, noting that patients may not be addressing their medical needs for very basic reasons, like the inability to get to their doctor's offices, or because they lack access to diabetes-friendly foods. Baldridge said the adherence issue really comes down to “what do we need to do to help them manage their disease,” and coming up with a solution. She also noted that n4a has 40 years of community experience, and knows how to scale efforts to address cultural sensitivities and needs.
The innovation comes from a personal approach underpinned by data-driven targeting. N4a's goal is to help link diabetes patients to care strategies, but Big Data is helping the non-profit choose where these centers should be located. Baldridge said the majority of diabetes patients who aren't filling their prescriptions, visiting doctors or following diabetes regimens are located in 8,000 zip codes. It is here where n4a intends to set up shop and cultivate relationships with the community and healthcare providers. The idea is to have healthcare providers send patients to the centers so they can learn to manage life in addition to their medical condition.
Spokesperson Baldridge said a 2011 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation study provided some of the inspiration for the project. The report found that 80% of surveyed physicians aid they didn't feel they could meet their patients' social needs, while 85% of these same doctors said it's as important to address social needs as medical conditions, particularly patients in low-income communities.
N4a and the National Minority Quality Forum beat out finalist Enduring FX, which proposed making exercise a community event by outfitting public parks with interactive features, like weather forecasts, foursquare-like check-ins and milestone celebrations that include a photo finish posted to a community board when reaching a new personal fitness best. The project was the pooled efforts of a software entrepreneur, software architect and athlete. “We think there's no way to halt the ramp-up in diabetes without targeting obesity – a primary driver to the increase of type 2 diabetes,” the company said an Innovation Challenge blog entry.
The two projects were the last ones standing after a six-month process that began with a crowdsourcing period that determined the contest's focus and ended with a crowdsourced vote on which projects should make it to the final round.
The January votes said Sanofi's winning solution had to improve patient outcomes, improve the quality and effectiveness of diabetes care, reduce the cost of care without diluting its quality and cultivate “a state of overall wellness, and not just symptom mitigation.” Sanofi also specified that the proposals had to be scalable and show “empathy for the specific needs and circumstances of people living with diabetes.”
Five proposals made it to the semi-finals, and included projects that would aggregate and analyze diabetes-related data, video consultations with diabetes educators and a mobile monitoring and collaboration system that would help patients implement treatment plans.
Baldridge said her group is still raising money for its centers but hopes that within 6 to 9 months of opening the first center that they will be able to have “some very good numbers and results.