7 Brilliant Ideas To Make Health Data More Useful

What if there were an easy way to connect with people in your neighborhood who had the same health problems as you? That’s just one idea from the winners of the Knight Foundation’s challenge for new tools that use health data.

7 Brilliant Ideas To Make Health Data More Useful
[Image: Abstract via Shutterstock]

For the past few years, winners of the Knight News Challenge have produced handy tools for journalists, policymakers, and everyone in between. You may have heard of some of the best known ones, like DocumentCloud, a tool for analyzing public documents, and Safecast, a project that aims to build a network of air quality sensors. Now the Knight Foundation has turned its attention towards health data, with the seven winning projects of the $2 million Knight News Challenge: Health.


The winners, picked from more than 700 entries, span topic areas, but there are some trends. Many of the applications, for example, track community health patterns.

“Despite the fact that we have all this research and medical knowledge, there’s not a lot of applications around understanding who else in my neighborhood has this disease,” says Michael Maness, Knight’s Vice President of Journalism and Innovation. “It’s a strange thing that health issues are isolating you from your normal family or community because they are so singular.”

Here’s the full list of winners:

  • Camden Health Explorer: An interactive tool that aggregates health data and medical insurance claim data and maps them by both geography and demographics. The Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers hopes the tool can help hospitals and healthcare providers target their resources more effectively.
  • Crisis Text Line: Created by, this free text messaging counseling service for youth has already served 14,000 teens during its beta test in 2013. In the future, DoSomething plans to launch a national service and create an anonymous database providing information for and about teens in crisis.
  • Homebrew Sensing Project: This project from Public Laboratory will use the Knight cash to build cheap chemical analysis tools that can be connected to smartphones and laptops. The ultimate goal is to allow anyone to track hazardous chemicals in their neighborhoods, making it easier to also track associated health effects.
  • Ohana API: Created by a group of Code for America Fellows, Ohana is a database of health, human, and social services for the public to use.
  • Open Humans Network: In an attempt to speed up medical research, this network from will allow anyone to share his or her medical data with researchers. It will also establish collaborative data sharing guidelines for researchers hoping to use the network data in their studies.
  • Positive Deviance Journalism: Coming from the Solutions Journalism Network, Positive Deviance will track data sets for signs of so-called “positive deviance” in health, or hints of promising results that could eventually be big news stories.
  • SafeUseNow: This project from Principled Strategies aims to cut down on prescription drug abuse with a tool that highlights all the pharmacies, patients, and doctors that are making the problem worse–and allows users to watch out for changes in prescription patterns. SafeUseNow will get a test drive with Medicaid in California before expanding elsewhere.

A network of partners, including the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the California HealthCare Foundation, the Clinton Foundation, and the Health Data Consortium, pitched in financially and used their health expertise to help pick the finalists. “We needed people to say ‘You can’t get this health data, someone tried this four years ago, this is why it shouldn’t work,'” explains Maness.

The Knight Foundation is already thinking about future health data challenges. Says Maness: “This is long-term, this is an area that will only become more robust as we go along. It’s not like you write a story about this and it goes away.”

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more