Here’s to the Winners: Our Judges Pick the Best of the Entries in the PCORI Challenge

June 4, 2013 by Anne Beal, MD, MPH

Anne Beal headshotWhen we launched the PCORI Challenge last December, we were seeking answers to a tough question – how might we connect patients and researchers as partners in comparative effectiveness research (CER) that will help patients and those who care for them make better-informed healthcare decisions.

We sponsored the Challenge as a way for innovators to show us ways that technology could be harnessed to facilitate connections and real collaboration among researchers and patients and those who care for them. We believe such connections will lead to greater involvement of patients throughout the research process, from generating ideas, to participating in studies, to sharing the results.

PCORI-Health 2.0 graphic with PCORI logoWe weren’t sure what we’d find, but we suspected that with enough interested innovators in the healthcare and technology communities working on this issue, we’d uncover more than a few creative solutions. And we weren’t disappointed.

So it was with great pleasure that I stood on the main stage at the fourth annual Health Datapalooza in Washington, DC, June 3 and announced the winners of our Challenge to propose a concept or prototype for a patient-researcher “matching system.”

And the winners are….

A screenshot of ACTONNECT's web-based search engine that took home first prize in the concept category.

A screenshot of ACTONNECT’s web-based search engine that took home first prize in the concept category.

WellSpringboard's web-based, crowd-sourcing platform won the award for best prototype.

WellSpringboard’s web-based, crowd-sourcing platform won the award for best prototype.

The winner in the concept category, and recipient of a $10,000 prize, is ACTONNECT, a web-based search engine and interface developed by a team from the Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation, Marshfield, Wis., and Drexel University in Philadelphia. The winner in the prototype category, and recipient of a $40,000 prize, is WellSpringboard, a web-based crowd-sourcing platform developed by a team at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

A multi-stakeholder panel of 10 judges selected these winners from 29 entries submitted by academic centers, patient advocacy and community organizations, industry groups and others. The judges considered a set of critical criteria, including technical merit, usability and scalability, patient-centeredness, and how well they addressed the particular challenges of serving “hard-to-reach” audiences.

As someone who reviewed all of the entries, I can tell you that these two showed particular promise for supporting patient-centered CER with innovative ideas for connecting patients, other stakeholders and researchers. I can also tell you that even though these entries took top honors, a number of other projects scored well with our judges and offered promising approaches to the matching issue. So after additional review by our Science and Engagement staff, we decided to name three additional honorable mentions in each category, with smaller prizes. They are:

Concept ($5,000 prizes):

  • PatientsLikeMe, an online network where people share information and get support and where researchers can glean insights into patients’ experiences from the information users share and the site’s tools.
  • S. T. A. R. INITIATIVE, an initiative consisting of a mobile app would let African-American women connect with researchers and educational curricula for both these women and researchers.
  • Lucid Bell’s Patient-Researcher Match, a web-based application that would incorporate data from the National Institute of Health’s clinical trials database and enable users to create topic profiles for themselves or others.

Prototype ($20,000):

  • Estenda’s Community-Driven Research, an online community that allows patients, caregivers, and researchers to share and rank topics and ideas and to find interested collaborators.
  • ResearchMatch, a national online registry of potential study volunteers and researchers, which aims to create new services, including tools designed to spur dialogue among users.
  • Community Research Partners, an online network where users can create profiles that researchers and members can tap to share interests and explore opportunities to collaborate.

More details on the winners and honorable mentions are available at the PCORI Challenge page maintained by our challenge manager, Health 2.0, a company that promotes and showcases new technologies in health care through conferences, code-a-thons, competitions and more.

Next steps

Our science and engagement staff will further review the winners and honorable mentions to determine if any might be considered candidates for additional support through our current or future funding channels. In the meantime, we hope the recognition and prizes our Challenge provided will encourage these teams to continue to develop their technologies into fully functioning patient-researcher matching systems.

We like to say that PCORI is set apart from other health research funding organizations by our focus on supporting CER that seeks answers to the questions most important to those at the center of the healthcare decision-making process – patients and their clinicians. We believe you can’t get to those critical questions, or hope the studies that seek to answer them will have real-world impact, without involving patients and other healthcare stakeholders as active partners in the research process.

This commitment to building a patient-centered research community is one of our core values. It’s something we expect our funding applicants to help us promote. And it’s why we’re so pleased at the outcome of the PCORI Challenge, which showed how the “wisdom of the crowd” can provide innovative ways for technology to facilitate and encourage connections and real collaboration among patients and researchers.

What might our next Challenge be? We’re already thinking about that. I’d welcome your ideas; please share them with me at info@pcori.org

Beal served as PCORI’s Deputy Executive Director and Chief Officer for Engagement from November 2011 – March 2014


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