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To Hit the Health Data Jackpot, Ask the Audience

Posted on April 26, 2017 by Justin Noble

In the game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, aspiring millionaires must answer trivia questions to receive a $1 million prize. If they need help, they can reach out to others by phoning a friend or asking the audience.

In health care decision-making, the true prize is being able to make a decision with high quality evidence. Unfortunately, evidence like this can be difficult to find and expensive to produce. What if health care decision-makers had the option to “ask the audience”?

This was the idea behind the Canada Health Infoway’s Data Impact Challenges. Infoway collected a number of health and health care–related questions that needed answers. These were sourced from supporting organizations and other partners, as well as an open call to Canadians to submit and vote on their most desired question. We then asked the audience by putting these questions to any authorized users of health care data sets in Canada, incenting them with awards ranging from $5,000 to $20,000.

The result made us very wealthy in evidence indeed. Thirty-four teams provided 51 answers to the 21 questions in the two Challenges (all entries are available on the challenge website). The Challenge judges were impressed by the quality of the entries received, and those who submitted the questions were pleased to receive answers.

This experience confirms, I hope, the viability of this alternative method for gathering evidence. Often, decision-makers feel stymied by a lack of the data or analysis they need. We learned through the Challenges that the data is often “out there”, in unanticipated places. Participating teams ran the gamut from private companies to government institutions to primary care clinics. It may surprise you where caches of relevant data turn up.

It also showed that those with authorized access to data are willing and able to share their analyses if prompted. While the challenge did offer awards, the amounts were not large, especially compared to the alternative of gathering new data and analyzing it. As we’ve outlined before, participants in Challenges are often motivated as much by competition, fun and goodwill as by a desire for awards.

Importantly, the lag between asking the questions and receiving answers was only a few weeks, much faster than traditional methods. This suggests that informing decision-making with evidence need not also mean slowing the process down

The Data Impact Challenges’ experience should encourage you to think of questions in your own work that could benefit from a new approach to seeking answers. Who knows, there could be someone out there waiting to throw you a lifeline.

For more advice on how to run a challenge of your own, see the blog series written in commemoration of five years of ImagineNation Challenges at Infoway.

Have a comment about this post? We’d love to hear from you.


jnoble 100Justin Noble

Justin is dedicated to putting digital health to work for clinicians and patients in order to improve health outcomes and the patient experience. In his role leading projects for Infoway’s Consumer Health and Innovation program, he has worked with innovative clinical and technology teams across the country.

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