UnitedHealthcare Launches Innovation Contest to Battle Chronic Illness

UnitedHealthcare is offering a $60,000 prize for developing products that solve challenges in health care and aid people with chronic conditions.

UnitedHealthcare has launched an open innovation initiative to encourage the development of products that help people live healthier lives and manage chronic conditions.

Announced on Jan. 11 at the International Consumer Electronics Show, the "Breakthrough Health Tech Challenge" will award a $60,000 prize to the winning health care innovator.

UnitedHealthcare is the health benefits unit of UnitedHealth Group.

Through its crowdsourcing challenge, UnitedHealthcare aims for innovators worldwide to address the greatest challenges facing the health system. Crowdsourcing involves outsourcing a task to a large group of people.

UnitedHealthcare is looking for ideas on how to use consumer devices such as video-game systems and mobile phones to aid people with chronic conditions, including diabetes, heart disease and obesity. The innovations should be able to prevent the onset of chronic conditions, said Martin Nyman, director of innovation at UnitedHealthcare.

"The goal of the challenge is to identify new solutions that will enhance the health of people living with chronic conditions, facilitate the prevention of these conditions and help people lead healthier lives," Nyman told eWEEK in an email. "By engaging people from around the globe, we will be able to identify new ideas that focus on innovative solutions that contribute to improving people's health and the overall health system."

Through the challenge, UnitedHealthcare is also looking for "exergaming" innovations that combine exercise and video games, said Nyman. Exergaming is a form of consumer engagement, he noted.

UnitedHealth Group combines exercise and social challenges in its OptumizeMe mobile app. Available on Windows Phone 7, iOS and Android, OptumizeMe allows people to track their health behaviors. Through the app, they can also challenge friends to meet fitness, nutrition and lifestyle goals.

UnitedHealthcare will accept submissions through April 8. A team of health care experts will evaluate the submissions based on "creativity, viability and the potential to improve people's health," Nyman said.

"We believe this groundbreaking challenge will inspire new ideas and concepts that could serve as breakthrough solutions to improving people's health and the health care system," Gail Boudreaux, CEO of UnitedHealthcare, said in a statement. "By engaging people from around the globe, we will be able to identify new thinking that focuses on solutions that promote health, prevent disease and improve medical care."

The company has launched a number of health care challenges since mid-2012. The new challenge is geared toward the public while previous challenges focused on engaging UnitedHealth Group employees, the company reported.

UnitedHealthcare launched the challenge because of a convergence occurring in consumer technology, Nyman said in a company video.

The "common person" can now develop these consumer technology products in a cost-effective way and apply them to a certain application, according to Nyman.

For the challenge, UnitedHealthcare is open to ideas from outside the health care industry, according to Boudreaux.

"Innovative ideas can come from anywhere, including from people outside the health system," Boudreaux said.

After the challenge has concluded, UnitedHealthcare will draw on its industry expertise, including data analytics and clinical insight, to help market the innovations and benefit the health system, Nyman said.

In addition to announcing the innovation challenge at CES, UnitedHealthcare also demonstrated its MyHealthcare Cost Estimator tool, which is Web-based and mobile. MyHealthCare helps users understand their health care costs for doctors and hospitals as well as compare the costs and quality of alternative treatments, the company reported.

"It's bringing transparency to health care, which all consumers deserve," Dr. Reed Tuckson, executive vice president and chief medical officer at UnitedHealth Group, said in a company video at CES.