When software developers collaborate with community leaders around social determinants of health – it can spark innovative tech solutions. That was the goal of a recent HIMSS developer challenge focused on health equity for Latinx youth and designed by Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) and HIMSS Innovation Center.
One of the largest and fastest-growing youth populations in the U.S., about 62% of Latinx youth live in low-income households. In California, one in four have an undocumented parent. Latinx youth face increased risks for health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, asthma and depression. They’re also experiencing increased rates of anxiety, depression, and a sense of social isolation and are less likely to seek help from healthcare institutions or social service agencies.
The CHLA/HIMSS challenge aimed to increase understanding about causes behind these health disparities and create tech solutions that drive positive change. 16 entries were judged by a panel that included Omkar Kulkarni, chief innovation officer at CHLA; Shashi Tripathi, chief technology officer at ImpediMed; Kate Jenkins, director of operations at ConsejoSano; Dr. Mona Patel, vice president of global research & business development at Frost & Sullivan; and Amit Trivedi, director of informatics & health IT standards at HIMSS.
The top three winners received a combined total of $20,000 and the option to partner with CHLA Innovation Studio, The Children’s Partnership, UX designers, developers or other groups to support development, piloting and implementation of their solutions.
First Place: MotiSpark ($10,000 award)
MotiSpark is a Los Angeles-based startup using personalized videos and the immersive power of smart phones to inspire healthier behaviors. The platform combines best practices from advertising, evidence-based behavioral science and social media.
The MotiSpark solution is designed to empower Latinx youth and adults through cognitive behavioral therapy and positive psychology. Using text messages and mobile-web videos, the MotiSpark proposal describes “an experience that feels more like using Instagram and watching short fun videos than fear-inducing trackers or text-based coaching.” With bilingual, culturally relevant programming, users create their own motivational videos of friends and family members to inspire healthier attitudes and actions.
MotiSpark co-founder and CEO of Ariel McNichol has a background in evidence-based behavioral science from working with Scientific Learning and in the consumer market as creative director and user interface/user experience designer for companies like Apple, Lucas Arts, and Disney.
In the MotiSpark concept, Latinx youth (and their parents) use their phones to watch supportive videos triggered at critical moments. The short videos teach and reinforce coping strategies for stress and fear -- and strengthen family and community bonds. The app also enables psychologists to better understand and identify speciﬁc challenges and symptoms within the Latinx youth community.
“This developer challenge really spoke to us,” said McNichol. “There is a big problem and a big opportunity – because there aren’t products culturally and demographically relevant, or capable of addressing fears inside the Latinx community. If we can intervene in the daily life of social media, we can change outcomes. It’s about using phones and visual content for the good. That’s our mission.”
Married to a Latino husband and the mom of two sons, McNichol has a unique understanding of the issues facing Latinx youth – and she understands the power of social media. “It’s a ball of fire most grown-ups can’t realistically manage for their children. It’s the responsibility of designers to intervene in this landscape with behavioral health interventions that help children and are aware of the visual priming they receive.”
McNichol sees many good digital health companies unable to find their fit in the marketplace, so she is a fan of developer challenges that clearly define a specific need with a request for proposal (RFP). “The process of innovation should be changed to soliciting submissions like this. Without an RFP we can’t get into health systems because the sales cycle is so long,” says McNichol. “This developer challenge has the wonderful ability to help us launch quickly and measure outcomes because it’s not integrated in the EHR (electronic health record) for this pilot phase. If a company can deploy quickly, the road is much easier.”
McNichol hopes to receive support based on the platform’s impact on social determinants of health, with funding from foundations or governments. “We’re a startup struggling to make money. We couldn’t justify deploying a solution like this and make a difference for youth and mental health without the CHLA and HIMSS award. They realize we need to spark innovation to address social determinants of health.”
Second Place: Team MiTia ($7,000 award)
In Latinx communities, there’s a tradition of relying on friends and family for health advice – often an older woman referred to as la tia, or aunt. To address distrust and lack of familiarity with the U.S. health system, as well as the highest uninsurance rate of any racial or ethnic group in the U.S., this tech entry proposes inviting respected tias to answer questions and share advice on the MiTia app, “a hyper-local social networking platform providing user-generated content from influential tias in the Hispanic community.”
The MiTia concept was developed by Thrust Interactive, a Georgia-based game development studio that’s created over 100 interactive experiences for brands like PBS Kids, Star Wars, Headline News, the NFL and more. MiTia uses artificial intelligence to provide popularly searched content in a geographic area or local social network. It proposes the ability to speak to a live (and trained) tia via video conferencing or text. Team MiTia cites the app’s unique socio-technical system analysis in the design, digitally connecting tias to the rest of the Latinx community. To support social connections, MiTia will leverage aspects of the company’s successful Healium app for children with chronic illnesses.
Third Place: Therapy for Latinx ($5,000 award)
Therapy for Latinx is an established platform connecting Latinx clients with licensed mental health therapists. It shares practical insights and tools for improving mental health and a place to share stories in a community where word-of-mouth carries great impact. In less than a year, this live online directory and marketplace has attracted over 23K social media followers.
Therapy for Latinx is a mobile and desktop site running on remote operations and lean costs by leveraging third party service providers and open-source software. Site visitors can choose from six categories: therapists, psychiatrist, emergency mental health, community clinics, support groups or life coaches. They can enter a city or address to find resources closest to them, using data mining and a geolocation application programming interface (API), giving users results based on location.
The company was founded by Brandie Carlos, an entrepreneur and community organizer in East Los Angeles with over 12 years of experience in digital marketing, tech startups and web design. After losing one of her best friends to alcohol and antidepressants in 2018, she started seeking ways to help the Latinx community find mental health resources. Therapy for Latinx describes a commitment to “breaking down all the barriers that stop the Latinx community from accessing and looking for mental health services. We believe in leveraging technology to educate, empower, and connect our community to not just live, but thrive.”