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State, Anthem ask techies to solve infant mortality

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The expectations were sky high Friday at the Hoosier Healthcare Innovation Challenge, where health care experts outlined problems they face to an auditorium full of information technology students and professionals.

The hope is for the tech developers to come up with software, mobile apps or other technical solutions, launching a successful business that helps improve health and save money in the process.

The first challenge came from Dr. Bill VanNess, Indiana’s Commissioner of Health, who asked for a smartphone app that the state could offer to pregnant moms to educate them about infant health and help them easily schedule appointments with health care providers.

The state, along with health insurer Anthem Blue Cross & Blue Shield and Indianapolis community health center Raphael Center, will work with teams of IT developers and entrepreneurs to develop and deploy a solution.

The goal is to reduce Indiana’s infant mortality rate from 7.7 per thousand births, which ranks the state No. 47. Any baby who dies before his or her first birthday is counted as an infant death.

In Marion County, the rate is 9.5 per thousand births, compared with a national rate of 6 per thousand.

“It’s a horrible problem that we really need to fix,” VanNess said, calling infant mortality the No. 1 indicator of the overall health status of any state or nation.

VanNess thinks technology is the answer because it has potential to reach more patients, more frequently, than doctors and nurses ever could.

“There are people who don’t have a home, don’t have a car, but they have a smartphone,” VanNess said. He added, “There’s going to be an opportunity, a huge opportunity, to communicate with patients away from the office.”

And VanNess, a family physician and former CEO of Community Hospital Anderson, thinks mobile apps could actually do a better job than doctors of educating patients—just because doctors have little to no time to spend on such issues. Pregnant moms need to take prenatal vitamins to avoid low-weight babies at birth, and they need education on how to feed, comfort and care for an infant after birth.

Using mobile apps to change patients behavior is health care providers' great hope. That’s because diseases caused mainly by patient behavior—such as heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease—account for the majority of health care spending nationwide.

“If this does work,” VanNess said of a mobile app for pregnant moms, “this could move to other opportunities to control chronic diseases.”

Teams of IT developers, some of which were already formed and some of which got together for the first time on Friday, have until July 31 to pitch their solutions.

Experts convened by Indianapolis economic development groups DevelopIndy and TechPoint, who organized the challenge, will pick winners and award them modest cash prizes to continue their work.

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  • Compassionate much...
    It's not so much as encouraging women to have babies, but making sure the babies who are born to lower income women have a good chance at being healthy. At the state and local level a very important part of the safety net. And please, deliver this service as efficiently and to as many as needed. Try to weed out fraud and waste. As far as your idea for an app that prevents pregnancy, that's a great idea, and I'm sure someone else can work on it.
  • OK, wait...
    So according to VanNess: “There are people who don’t have a home, don’t have a car" (presumably because they can't afford it) so its a good idea to encourage them to bring a human being into the world; which they cant afford to shelter or transport to Dr apts, not to mention cloth, feed, and THIS is less expensive on society. I'm not sure I follow that logic. Next, gentle reader, focus your attention on the last IBJ article which states that leaders are asking parents to be parents and keep their kids off the streets. I can tell you from first hand experience that the same people who can't afford to have kids are the same parents who are allowing them to roam the streets and create a fiscal and emotional drain on our society. I'm not sure this new app is a great idea. I'd much rather he focuses his energy on an app that prevents unwanted pregnancy in the first place.

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