US-UK Partners Launch Obesity Data Challenge

The de Beaumont Foundation, in collaboration with the Health Data Consortium (HDC) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), today announced the Obesity Data Challenge, a joint U.S.-England initiative to tackle the epidemic of adult obesity.

The Obesity Data Challenge is part of two parallel, prize-based competitions running in the United States and in England, where it is led by National Health Service (NHS) England and their organizing partner, Rewired State. Each country’s challenge participants can utilize and mash up open data to develop new data visualization tools to give communities, local health officials, patients and practitioners new means to improve population health.

In the U.S. challenge, HDC and the de Beaumont Foundation are seeking solutions that enable health care professionals and local health officials to help patients and families address the obesity epidemic at both a personal and community level. Entrants are encouraged to utilize open government data sets from; alternatively, entrants can propose to make data they already collect available to the public under an open reuse license.

“The de Beaumont Foundation is proud to be the sponsor of the Obesity Data Challenge. Armed with innovative ways to use data, health officials and community leaders will be better able to tackle obesity and other health challenges. At de Beaumont, we work to support and transform how the U.S. approaches public health. Harnessing data for public health action at the local level is a significant part of that transformation,” said Edward L. Hunter, President and Chief Executive Officer of the de Beaumont Foundation.

The challenge is part of an ongoing partnership between HHS and NHS England that began in January 2011 to work together on health data and information technology tools to improve the quality and delivery of care in both countries.

“The Obesity Data Challenge represents a true milestone in our collaboration with the UK. Though our health care systems are different, there are opportunities in our health data to build solutions and tools that bring together providers and consumers to meaningfully address obesity in both countries,” said HHS Acting Deputy Secretary Mary Wakefield, Ph.D., R.N.

The Obesity Data Challenge will be announced during Health Datapalooza 2015, a national conference hosted by HDC that brings together a broad spectrum of leaders and stakeholders to discuss the future of open health data.

“The Obesity Data Challenge is an example of how the health data movement can address some of the greatest challenges we face in healthcare – both at home in the U.S. and around the world,” said Chris Boone, Ph.D., Chief Executive Officer of Health Data Consortium. “Health Data Consortium is proud to collaborate with the de Beaumont Foundation, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, NHS England and Rewired State, bringing together the power of both the public and private sectors, to foster the development of new tools that leverage open and accessible data for the public good.”

In the U.S. challenge, competing participants can submit entries, which must contain at least one piece of open government data from a government agency, until July 31. The awards will be given to the best submissions as determined by a panel of judges. A multi-tiered award of $40,000 will be divided among five winners. Winners of both the U.S. and England Obesity Data Challenges will be announced in September.

Video: Why Hospitals Should Partner with Public Health Departments

In this video posted by Hospitals and Health Networks Daily, Brian Castrucci of the de Beaumont Foundation explains why it’s more important than ever for hospital leaders and public health departments to work together. “Public health and hospitals need to come together to treat diseases that have origins well beyond clinical walls,” he says, “We’re not going to improve health outcomes if we don’t tackle the origins of disease.”

For more information, see “Public Partners in Population Health” in the April 2015 issue of Hospitals and Health Networks Daily.

BUILDing Better, Healthier Communities

by Brian C. Castrucci

Health care in America is designed to manage the consequences rather than the causes of disease. It has created expensive solutions for those who are already sick. Nearly all of our health care spending ($3 trillion spent in 2014 in the United States) goes to direct medical care for genetic and medical issues.

However, 70 percent of what makes us sick — the cause of our health care problems — can be attributed to the influence of social, physical, and economic environments on health behaviors. This includes where you live, whether you have a job, whether you have access to fresh fruits and vegetables, how much money you make, issues of race/ethnicity, stress, and more.

Our consequences-based approach to health care will lead to a lifetime of medication, countless doctor visits, and the need for surgery and other costly interventions for those who are chronically ill. It has created communities where there is better access to MRIs than fresh fruits and vegetables and more urgent care facilities than places for free or low-cost physical activity, like parks and recreation centers. The United States spends more than any other country on treating sick patients, but when it comes to spending on the social services that would address the actual causes of disease, the United States ranks dead last. Why are we choosing to wait until people are sick? Why are we not tackling disease at its source? We need to focus on the causes of disease; we need to prioritize prevention.

The Advisory Board Company, the de Beaumont Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation partnered to launch the BUILD Health Challenge — an acronym for BOLD, UPSTREAM, INTEGRATED, LOCAL, and DATA-DRIVEN — to catalyze a fundamental change in how we identify and address the root causes of long term disease and early death.

The change we need will be BOLD and INNOVATIVE — we need to transform our medicalized culture, where everything is viewed as a condition or disease that can be addressed with the newest pill or medical treatment. Instead, we must learn to focus on the causes of disease, many of which are social and environmental — often referred to as the “UPSTREAM“ causes of disease. It will start at the LOCAL level, where action and change have the greatest chance of success, and it will leverage the incredible increase in the availability of electronic DATA — health data and other sources — to target resources effectively and measure impact.

No single organization or even one sector can make much of an impact on some of our most challenging social problems acting in isolation. It will require multisectoral partnerships. The BUILD Health Challenge seeks to increase the number and effectiveness of hospital, community, and local health department collaborations.

Hospitals, community leaders, and local health departments each bring unique but complementary resources, perspectives, and expertise to the collaboration. Hospitals and health systems can contribute not only financial resources but also their expertise, other existing resources, and health data that can shape interventions that extend beyond the hospital to the community. Local health departments are trained to identify public health concerns, intervene with evidence-based practices, and often are able to change regulations or policies that can help improve a community’s health. Nonprofit community-based organizations often have the best understanding of the challenges, priorities, and goals of affected communities as well as the solutions most likely to be embraced and sustained.

Each will need to re-imagine their individual missions, how they share data and resources, and how they partner in new and creative ways to improve community health.

The BUILD Health Challenge will identify promising partnerships and projects, nurture them with intensive expert assistance, and begin to identify the necessary pathways to mediate the root causes of disease and improve health outcomes. It creates an opportunity to test new models grounded in creative, collaborative thinking about what can be done in communities to improve health. These projects won’t have to focus specifically on health care, but they will need to tackle broad, systems-level issues like education, access to fresh food, and improving early childhood.

In the United States, we have made a long-term commitment of time and resources to managing the consequences of disease with no real plan to address the actual causes. As a result, we find ourselves in an unending cycle where our best technological, educational, and pharmacological innovations and advances are used to manage new consequences.

The BUILD Health Challenge is a step forward in breaking this cycle. It is an important part of a broader movement that seeks to reset a health care paradigm that has evolved over centuries. If we succeed, we will change from a nation obsessed with health care and managing the consequences of disease to one obsessed with tackling the real causes of disease leading to improvements in population and community health.

This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post on Dec. 5, 2014, and was updated Dec. 6, 2017.


BUILD Health Challenge Launches $7.5 Million Initiative to Fund Innovative Collaborations That Improve Community Health

The Advisory Board Company, de Beaumont Foundation, Kresge Foundation, and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation have announced the launch of the BUILD Health Challenge. The BUILD Health Challenge will identify and support health partnerships taking BOLD, UPSTREAM, INTEGRATED, LOCAL, and DATA-DRIVEN approaches to improving health in low-income, urban communities.

Unlike many population health initiatives, BUILD Health Challenge requires awardees to take a multi-sectoral approach, including at least one hospital or health system, the local health department, and a nonprofit organization (or coalition of local non-profits) in an equal partnership. The program evolved out of a wealth of research demonstrating that up to 70 percent of an individual’s health is determined by the interplay of physical, social, and economic environments, rather than health care and genetics.

“Community conditions such as safe streets, affordable housing and economic opportunity play a powerful role in shaping health. Improving these community conditions will require cross-sector partnerships that share resources, responsibility and data in new ways,” said Chris Kabel, Senior Program Officer at Kresge. “BUILD Health will support such partnerships that focus their work in low-income, urban neighborhoods that are ready to create or enhance health-supporting resources and conditions.”

The BUILD Health Challenge will support up to fourteen partnerships in multiple phases of development through differentiated planning and implementation grants. Project plans must be focused on low-income, urban neighborhoods, but the funds may be used to support a range of activities including investments in technology, staff expansion, advocacy, and more.

“Primary care, public health, and nonprofits – not to mention the private sector – have been operating in their own silos for too long, and the result has been decades of one-off projects, some of which are successful, and some of which are not,” said Brian Castrucci, Chief Program and Strategy Officer at the de Beaumont Foundation. “This is a coordinated, collaborative effort to develop tested models for population health improvement that can be brought to scale. If BUILD succeeds, we will change the way that medicine, public health, and the community interact, leading to better outcomes.”

The need for BUILD Health has never been more pressing, as many cities, regions and states are experimenting with new methods to achieve better population health outcomes at lower costs.  The BUILD Health partners aim to identify and accelerate the most promising models of collaboration that will promote health equity, reduce per capita health spending, share data and responsibility, and shift resources upstream.

“Today, hospitals and health systems are increasingly adopting a team-based approach to partner with patients to better manage their own health,” said Robert Musslewhite, Chairman and CEO, The Advisory Board Company. “To have the greatest impact on community health, this team concept must expand beyond providers to include other key players in our communities. I am excited for the BUILD Health Challenge to encourage these partnerships, to drive innovation in care coordination, and to measurably improve the health of our communities.”

“We know that in order to successfully address today’s most pressing health challenges, we need leadership from across sectors working together on sustainable long-term solutions,” said Abbey K. Cofsky, senior program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “We look forward to seeing the ways in which the BUILD Health Challenge will help spur this type of leadership and foster a culture of health in communities across the nation.”

What I Am Really Afraid of… And It’s Not Ebola

by Brian C. Castrucci

The Ebola epidemic — like SARS, MERS, and H1N1 before it — shines a sudden and intense spotlight on the public health system. From our highest ranking government officials to the frontline workers who are responsible for disinfecting homes and interviewing contacts, every decision, action, and outcome is scrutinized and criticized. Under normal circumstances, the public health system is working to ensure that the places we live, work, and play are safe and that we are generally free to go about our lives without worrying that we’ll get sick from the food we eat or the water we drink.

When there is an infectious disease outbreak like Ebola, the narrative of fear overtakes the media and many of our political leaders. As criticism of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention intensifies and impulsive and irrational solutions like a travel ban from West Africa are proposed, we are ignoring the true danger to the American people: our thinly stretched, overburdened public health system.

Most people don’t realize that there is no minimum national standard for state or local health departments. The public health workforce that you will be relying on in the case of a deadly outbreak is inconsistently and unequally funded, staffed, and trained. Without such standards, public health systems not only vary from state to state, but city to city.

Since 2008, the state and local health department workforce has been cut by nearly 20 percent, but those cuts aren’t equally distributed. As a result, existing disparities in public health system capacities and capabilities have only become more extreme.

Your city might have an excellent infectious disease program — or it might not. Your state might be ahead of the game in training health care workers to handle highly contagious individuals — or it might not. Even if your community has all the protections it needs, what about the next county over? Where we live may not be where we work and play. In an outbreak, diseases don’t respect city or county lines. That’s why the health of your own community is intrinsically tied to the strength of public health services in surrounding communities.

We are going to manage this current outbreak. Long term, however, we need more significant fixes to ensure the safety of all Americans against possibly more challenging outbreaks.

Simply put, we need a public health system in which all Americans are guaranteed basic public health protections regardless of where they live. To achieve this goal, the Institute of Medicine outlined a minimum package of services that would establish baseline standards for core public health functions like disease control, emergency preparedness, and environmental health protections, among others.

Another strategy to bring consistency to our nation’s public health system is the movement for health department accreditation. Health department accreditation creates a baseline level of access, professional standards, and accountability on which citizens can depend regardless of where they live. The national Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB) accredited its first eleven health departments in 2013 and increased that number to 54 by September 2014. Both strategies will require funding and the political will to see it through as we prepare not just for the crises we face today, but for the unknown challenges that await us.

Our nation’s current underinvestment in public health places us all in jeopardy.

Whenever there is an outbreak, there is political and public outcry that dies out as soon as it is controlled. We have the great privilege of living largely free of fear from infectious disease, but it comes at a cost — investment in and ongoing support for the public health system.

This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post.