Monday, April 27, 2009

Health X PRIZE Communities: New Ulm Minnesota as a model for community health

A breakthrough project in New Ulm, MN provides an example of the potential when an entire community gets involved in improving health outcomes.

One of the more intriguing aspects of the Healthcare X PRIZE is not only the potential to see new technologies, methods, and implementation ideas from competing teams, but also to see how the test "communities" themselves organize themselves to support the innovation itself.

Last week I highlighted the "activated" community of Somerville, MA who is on a mission to eradicate childhood obesity. The entire community is rallying behind school nutrition programs, exercise initiatives, and greater education/awareness of the issue. My research of this community led me to learn more about New Ulm, MN and their Heart of New Ulm Project (thanks to Doug Goldstien at Gaming4Health for the tip!).

New Ulm is a small rural town in Minnesota of just over 13,000 people, nestled just 90 miles southwest of the Twin Cities, in the heart of the scenic Minnesota River Valley. New Ulm is becoming known as the "Christmas City" with its many Christmas traditions held each year but perhaps the greatest gift it is giving itself is to focus in on becoming one the healthiest cities in America.

The Heart of New Ulm project is a breakthrough concept designed to reduce the number of heart attacks that occur in the New Ulm area over the next 10 years. This means helping residents improve their health risks, such as physical activity, nutrition, obesity, or tobacco use, among others. The project will involve community education, medical interventions and environmental changes. Anyone who lives in the 56073 zipcode can participate in the Heart of New Ulm. Those living outside that zipcode are welcome to take part in the screenings and can certainly benefit from the community interventions. However, only those within the 56073 zipcode will be tracked for purposes of the study.

What is fascinating is how the town itself - politically, strategically, and personally - is banding together to work together to improve heart disease. They are obviously supported by their essentially single provider in the area, Allina Health, who happens to have a comprehensive electronic health record system by Epic. The Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation has partnered on the project as well, providing administrative support and research project expertise as well on this 10 year initiative. , as well as community, government, business and other local stakeholders to conduct a long-term initiative focusing on the City of New Ulm.

We believe that many more "communities" like New Ulm may be interested in competing for the Healthcare X PRIZE. When we expand the definition of community, you can see how other municipalities, employer-based groups, or other affiliations may also choose to align with the efforts of the Healthcare X PRIZE both in the competition phase but also a demonstration projects that run concurrent. Given our desire for the broadest impact, we are currently considering ways to include these concepts into the competition.

As always, we welcome your feedback.
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