An Interview with Dr. Robert T. Croyle on the i2 Challenge
On July 21, 2011, Health 2.0, in conjunction with the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), announced the launch of a new innovation competition sponsored by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) titled, “Using Public Data for Cancer Prevention and Control: From Innovation to Impact.” ONC is organizationally located within the Office of the Secretary for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). This two part innovation challenge will select four semi-finalists from Phase 1 to receive a $10,000 award and two finalists from Phase II, to receive a $20,000 award by developing an application that has the potential to integrate with existing health information technology platforms relevant to cancer prevention and control.
I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Robert T. Croyle, Director, Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences, to share his insights on the potential impact of the challenge:
1.) What is NCI’s involvement in the i2 initiative?
Designed to encourage innovation in health informatics, the ONC’s Investment in the Innovations Initiative (i2) provides a new avenue for NCI and ONC to collaborate on the “Using Public Data for Cancer Prevention & Control: From Innovation to Impact” developer challenge. The challenge was developed by NCI in collaboration with partners from the Kay Center for E-Health Research, the University of Hawaii, Northwestern University, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and will be implemented by ONC as part of the i2 program. The goals of this collaboration include promoting activities directed toward the NCI Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences (DCCPS) mission to support the prevention, early detection, diagnosis, treatment, and control of cancer, and to provide new tools for public health promotion and prevention. The goal of providing new tools for public health is shared with the ONC and the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Secretary.
2.) There is incredible interest in innovation from all sectors. Why is supporting innovation important?
DCCPS aims to reduce risk, incidence, and deaths from cancer, as well as enhance the quality of life for cancer survivors by supporting an integrated program of multi-disciplinary research. Stimulating open innovation through prizes and challenges makes our work open and transparent. It allows the broader research and development community to build upon the evidence of health behavior and decision making to innovate on the ways in which we bring that knowledge to stakeholders in cancer control. The America COMPETES Act provides an important avenue for addressing our core mission by increasing the number and diversity of individuals who are motivated and inspired to work on the significant challenge of cancer control.
3.) What types of cancer-related data would be useful to innovators for the NCI/ONC Developer Challenge?
One example of a rich cancer-related data source is the NCI’s Health Information National Trends Survey (HINTS), which provides information on national patterns and trends in health-related communication, such as cancer information access and barriers to usage. Other examples of data sources with a wealth of information on cancer statistics, risk factors, and screening behaviors include the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program data, the California Health Interview Survey (CHIS), and the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS).
4.) What are some examples of how an innovator would apply data innovation to solve a public health problem?
If the highly innovative entries that we received for NCI’s previous developer challenge are a harbinger of things to come, we are even more excited to see what innovators might submit for our current challenge. Some examples of how innovators can address challenges on the cancer control continuum include new ways of visualizing and communicating cancer-related data for community empowerment; facilitating patient-provider communication; connecting formal and informal care networks; addressing gaps in patient care coordination; providing decision support tools for policy makers and resource allocators; conserving costs and minimizing risk from overutilization of services; and indentifying underserved and at-risk populations.
There are also multiple examples and case studies in a recent publication on the state of the science on communicating health-related data that I co-authored, Making Data Talk: Communicating Public Health Data to the Public, Policy Makers, and the Press.
5.) What would success from the NCI-ONC DEVELOPER CHALLENGE initiative look like for NCI?
We hope that initiatives such as these will help stimulate new ideas on how to extend the benefits of important discoveries being made at the NCI more broadly throughout the public sphere. Frankly, we are trying to extend the reach, effectiveness, and efficiency of our cancer communication efforts, and we believe that the move toward open communities in health – what some have called Health 2.0 – might help us achieve that goal with a whole new set of partners. In essence, we want to support a new ecosystem of developers, entrepreneurs, and scientists who can continue to innovate for cancer control and public health.