IBM Health Corps

Will Technology Advancements in Health Benefit All?

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Calling for Submissions to IBM Health Corps

The right information, at the right time, in the hands of the right person. That, in essence, is the central goal of technology in health – to assist with data collection, analysis, and planning so a physician, community health worker, epidemiologist, or hospital administrator can make timely, insight-driven decisions that improve individuals’ and populations’ health. But we have seen that this mantra faces many practical hurdles.

IBM Health Corps is focused on clearing those hurdles for populations who are not always first in line to benefit from advancements in technology. As an IBM social impact initiative, we partner with organizations to tackle health disparities using data, technology, and design. Our multidisciplinary teams of IBMers travel to work and live with organizations on the front lines of health, for three weeks, to help incubate their ideas that will transform health.

In 2017, one of our major successes with our partners was helping to halve the price of chemotherapy for cancer patients in Sub-Saharan Africa. The solution we built with the American Cancer SocietyChemoQuant – activated a pathway to improve market efficiencies in cancer care.

We are seeking the next group of innovators to partner with, who see opportunities to increase access to and improve the quality of health by using data, technology and design. Learn about and respond to our call for ideas here.

Achieving systemic change in health, especially for under-served populations, is challenging but is an area where IBM and IBM Citizenship have been building expertise over many years in every continent. We’ve developed three key principles to guide how we work on health disparities in a manner that is responsible, innovative, and impact-driven:

  1. Prioritize our work based on understanding the system and where we can activate change (i.e., focusing on a root cause may not be the most effective place to start) – We recognize that many health disparities stem from an ecosystem of deep-seated social, political, and environmental challenges. So, the right problems for IBM Citizenship to work on are those whose solutions unlock the feasibility for known solutions or new innovation to become applicable in improving the health system. We are looking for a domino effect where our work acts as a catalyst in the ecosystem. Too often, we’ve heard of shiny mobile devices with quick-fix apps that are piloted in resource-limited areas, that then go to rest in a “graveyard” of a supply closet after the pilot ends. So, our best-fit projects are those where we understand where in the ecosystem we can make a difference, release untapped value, and open doors for others – especially local organizations – to enter the ecosystem with solutions and new ideas.
  2. Collaborate with partners who can sustain the work (i.e., matchmaking on “mission” isn’t enough) – The right partners for IBM Citizenship are those who have demonstrated their ability to work within the system that the challenge exists and get things done. It’s not enough to find partners who align on mission. Our partners, who we work very closely with, should have the authority and influence to help change the status quo and help create the conditions for health equity. Our partners’ connectedness is critical to bringing about systemic change, past the point of the IBM Citizenship engagement.
  3. Apply human-centered design throughout (i.e., “If it’s about us, but without us, it’s not for us”) – The public health and clinical interventions required to improve population health are well known. Successful implementations of these interventions, however, are heavily influenced by the specific contextual constraints, such as cost and resources, infrastructure, environment, and culture. By using IBM Design Thinking principles in our engagements, our teams can create solutions that truly work for the context and the “user” – e.g., the nurse, medical supply chain director, pharmacist. After all, it’s people who ultimately solve health disparities; technology is simply an enabler. So, by taking a human-centered approach to our work, we increase the potential for adoption and sustained impact. We use the practices in our Health Corps engagements to help us co-create with our partners and their communities, calibrating our work to answer a human need.

You can see our projects where we applied these principles and practices by visiting ibmhealthcorps.org/projects.

We are excited to select the next group of organizations to work with. Our 2018 Application cycle is open for submissions from January 17 to February 13 at ibmhealthcorps.org/apply. Our partnerships for 2018 will be focused on two areas: cancer, and the health workforce.

Please share this opportunity with organizations you think might benefit from working with us. We look forward to your ideas, and to building solutions that bring the right information, at the right time, to the right person, so all people can live a healthy life.

Curious how we’ve lived these guiding principles in other Health Corps projects? 

  • Check out our work with Gorgas Memorial Institute of Health Studies of Panama to prototype a data collection mobile app for public health inspectors on the front lines of fighting mosquito-borne disease.
  • Learn about our collaboration with the Taiwan Centers for Disease Control to improve their infectious disease modeling capabilities.
  • See how in our project with Duke Health, we engaged stakeholders from community-based organizations, hospitals and clinics, and the health department to catalyze improved communication and collaboration for a community and population health mapping platform.

Joel Mangan is Health Initiatives Lead for IBM Corporate Citizenship. For more information about our selection criteria and focus areas for IBM Health Corps, please review the Application Guide.

Related Resources:

Apply to Host an IBM Health Corps Team

Learn More About IBM Health Corps

Working to End Cancer Treatment Inequality in Sub-Saharan Africa

Health Initiatives Lead for IBM Corporate Citizenship

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