Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Health X PRIZE Communities: Somerville Massachussets as a prototype

Somerville's experiment began in 2002, when researchers from Tufts University decided to find out whether efforts to promote exercise and healthful eating could help prevent obesity among schoolchildren

One of the interesting features of the Healthcare X PRIZE is that the competition is aimed at creating an "optimal health paradigm that engages and empowers individuals and communities in a way that will dramatically improve health value." This refocusing our disease care system on actual health improvements, and measuring those improvements at both an individual and community level, is what the Healthcare X PRIZE is trying to achieve.

It seems that the town of Sumerville in Massachussets has definitely figured this out. In a great piece in todays's edition of USA Today, the little town that could is featured for their efforts to dramatically "shape" up their community by tackling the childood obesity epidemic head on. They are in the midst of a seven year investment into a comprehensive community program to fight childhood obesity while encouraging a healthier lifestyle for the community. The community altered the school lunch program, installed new bike lanes, restuarant menus included more healthy choices, and residents planted community gardens. Within one year, the results revealed that children gained 15% less weight than other kids their age and they noted a doubling of the bike lanes

You can imagine how teams and communities competing for the Health X PRIZE might adopt similar programs, with greater transparency and complementary programs that can dramatically impact the "community health index". Decreased admissions to hospital (due to greater health awareness, earlier intervention, more activity, etc), reduced re-admissions (better coordination, transition followups, etc), decreased ED visits (due to better compliance, better access to providers, etc), and better health status as well as better overall health experience could begin to yield the level of health value increases we believe are possible as we begin to think about health and vitality as our objective.

If these programs were associated with aligned incentives from the providers and the employers, you can begin to see the potential impact. We believe Somerville represents what is possibility when a community gets together to improve health status - we look forward to innovations like this as we prepare for the competition this fall.
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