This spring, teams of college and university students are being challenged to create an application that uses available health data to promote better health in their communities.

A competition organized by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) asks students to identify a health problem in their community, such as smoking or obesity, and design a web-based, mobile or SMS platform that harnesses available data to help people make healthier, more informed choices.

The challenge was launched as part of the Health Data Initiative (HDI), a collaboration between the IOM and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that calls on innovators to develop applications that disseminate health information in a way that inspires people to improve health in their communities. 

Health data is becoming more and more widely available online, according to Christine Stencel, Media Relations Officer at the Institute of Medicine. The collegiate competition gives students the opportunity to participate in the HDI’s effort to use this vast collection of data to affect positive change. 

Indeed, a project’s ability to contribute to the community will be a main criterion considered in the judging process. Teams must be able to demonstrate how their application will raise awareness about their chosen health problem and contribute to solving it.

“One element of this is that we really want the products the teams develop to have a social and community connection,” says Stencel.

Ideal candidates will “demonstrate how people in the community would use this and communicate with others in the community,” she explains.


For example, Stencel says, a team might come up with an app that gives adolescents reasons to avoid taking up smoking, and prompts them to share these reasons with friends.

Aside from benefitting others, the competition will also provide a valuable experience for the students themselves.

“It’s really an interesting opportunity for university and college students to take their skills and the knowledge they’ve gained through their studies and apply them in a real-world kind of way,” Stencel says.

Participating teams must have 2-5 members and include one student from an engineering or software discipline and one from a health discipline. The competition is available to both undergraduates and graduates. Submissions are due on April 27, 2011.

Winners receive both a monetary reward and an opportunity to present their product at the next HDI forum in June in front of members of the IT and health communities, as well as top-level Health and Human Services representatives.

 For more information about the competition, click here