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New Applications Help Patients, Doctors Battle Cancer

Apps submitted for fed challenge took a broad range of health data and made it meaningful.

by / January 9, 2012

Two health IT applications designed to help doctors and patients stay a step ahead of cancer each took home a $20,000 prize this month in the “Using Public Data for Cancer Prevention and Control: From Innovation to Impact Developer Challenge.”

Ask Dory!, an app which helps users find information about clinical trials for cancer based on data from, was one of the winners. The other finalist, My Cancer Genome, allows doctors to see a list of therapeutic options for cancer, based on a patient’s tumor gene mutations.

In an interview with Government Technology, Wil Yu, special assistant for innovations with the Office for National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) said the winning apps stood apart from other submissions based on their ability to manipulate cancer data and provide a level of analysis that was both accurate and significant to users.

“Health data is very visceral,” Yu explained. “How it’s interpreted by the end user can be very subjective and these apps did an outstanding job of taking a broad range of health data and [making] it meaningful to those that use it.”

Ask Dory! was developed by Chintan Patel.; Sharib Khan; and Aamir Hussain of Applied Informatics. A demo of the app is posted online.

My Cancer Genome was submitted by Mia Levy of the Vanderbilt University Medical Center. The app draws from the National Cancer Institute’s physician data query clinical trial registry data set and is fully operational.

The two finalist apps were presented at the Hawaii International Conference on Systems Sciences, held from Jan. 4 to Jan. 7, in Wailea, Maui, Hawaii. The contest was sponsored by ONC in conjunction with the National Cancer Institute.

The challenge began in July 2011 as 19 applications were submitted for consideration in Phase 1. In Phase 2, those submissions were whittled down to four semi-finalist entries based on five criteria:

  •  use of cancer-related data;
  • impact on the continuum of cancer prevention and control;
  • integration;
  • innovation; and
  • usability.

In addition to the Ask Dory! and My Cancer Genome apps, the two other semifinalists were Health Owl, a program that simplifies cancer screening and the decision-making process by providing recommendations based on demographic information and family; and Cancer App by mHealth Solutions, which provides users with strategies for reducing cancer risk.

Each semifinalist received a $10,000 prize.

Despite only 19 submissions to the challenge, Yu said the contest was a success.

“We thought it was a superb effort, given it was very novel for both the challenge organizers at the federal level, but also the innovators that would develop [the apps],” he explained. “This was something new and we were able to garner a fairly wide level of applicants.”

But will the apps have a significant impact in the health IT field? While it’s too early to tell, Yu said he believes the challenge’s results ultimately will help advance health IT.

“I think the key to these apps is that they are not a one-size-fits-all model,” Yu said. “You won’t find the perfect solution to every aspect of care delivery, but it increases the size of the ecosystem.”

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Brian Heaton

Brian Heaton was a writer for Government Technology magazine from 2011 to mid-2015.

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