The Baltimore City Health Department is working directly with the tech community on projects that can help the government.
Launched in October, the TECHealth program is pairing a cohort of seven teams of technologists with health department officials as they build tools to address public health challenges.
Health Department CIO Mike Fried said the department wanted to create a “bridge” to get the designers, developers and innovators of what he called Baltimore’s “burgeoning startup community” working directly with government.
“Baltimore is filled with very smart, creative people who want to be involved, and we want to give them an outlet,” Fried said, adding that the health department can also benefit from know-how on innovating at a “tactical and operational level.”
Health department leaders arrived at the format after meeting with advisors from the tech community and talking with other cities. Operationally, Fried said others have described the program as somewhere between a hackathon and an accelerator. Projects were selected in October, and are looking to move from ideation to a prototype over a three-month period. Each team of technologists has advisory support from a local incubator or community group, and a designated point of contact at the health department.
After a January event, the city is also planning to provide funding to some of the groups through microgrants.
“It’s really going to be a conversation with the teams about what they need to scale this out for the city,” Fried said.
While they want to encourage the projects to turn into pilots or even companies that can be used first in Baltimore, Fried said the city is not looking to retain ownership of the intellectual property. Partnering with incubators like ETC, Betamore and other organizations is also designed to provide the teams help with developing the ideas into viable products.
“As these teams go forward and as they work on solutions to these problems, our hope is they find things that can be marketed to other jurisdictions and can be rolled out nationwide,” Fried said.
Here’s a look at the projects, via BCHD:
- Health-of-the-City Dashboard
Letitia Dzirasa and Spark Baltimore-based Fearless are working to develop a dashboard that analyzes large volumes of health department data to provide information on where there are particular needs to address chronic disease.
- Estimating the Level of Asthma in Neighborhoods
Angela Wells-Simms, who was a Social Innovation Lab cohort member earlier this year, is leading an effort to use data from healthcare and housing sources to analyze asthma rates by neighborhood. The team is partnering with Impact Hub Baltimore on the effort.
- Civic Health Engagement/Public Health Ambassador Platform
Jayne Chartrand is heading up creation of a platform that encourages people to be public health ambassadors, assisting the health department’s community outreach efforts digitally. Neighborhood Design Center is the partnering organization.
- CFR/FIMR Confidential Task Tracking
A pair of task forces meet monthly to review suspicious deaths of children. Chris Meenan of Analytical Informatics and a team, supported by Spark Baltimore, is looking to create a database that tracks recommendations and action steps that result from the meetings, and maintain confidentiality.
- Heroin Notification and Outreach System
Michael LeGrand and Code in the Schools are working on an app that sends alerts to heroin users with information about modifying dosages that could contain the powerful opioid fentanyl.
Following up on work that garnered a win at the Kaiser Permanente Social Innovation Challenge during Baltimore Innovation Week, Kelly King and Donna Boyer are continuing work on a digital toolset for returning citizens. Betamore is providing support.
- Education Through Food Computers
Using open sourced technology from MIT Media Lab, project lead Melanie Shimano and Aravind Krishnan are spearheading an effort to develop an after school program centered on Food Computers, which are programmed mini-greenhouses to grow various kinds of produce. ETC is the partner organization.