Way to Wellville requires health IT

June 16, 2014 in Medical Technology


Esther Dyson’s much-publicized Way to Wellville competition is more about health than healthcare, and certainly not about health IT. Yet, health IT is central to the initiative’s goal of improving the health of populations.

“This is not a health tech play,” explains Dyson, a journalist-turned-angel investor. However, she adds, “Health without health IT makes no sense now.”

This month, the advisory board of Dyson’s HICCup, the nonprofit Health Intervention Coordinating Council, announced 16 semifinalists from among the 42 applicant communities — all with less than 100,000 residents. The original plan had been to pick 10 semifinalists, suggesting that many of the proposals were better than expected. (Dyson says she received twice as many applications as she had hoped for.)

Those 16 communities have until June 20 to submit detailed proposals. Then, members of the HICCup advisory board will choose 7-8 finalists, and conduct site visits in July and early August among the final group. Dyson expects to name the “Wellville Five” in mid-August that will work with her organization for the next five years.

HICCup is not offering any grant money–Dyson calls grants unsustainable–but sponsors will provide incentives along the way and a prize at the end of the five years, according to Dyson, plus, participating communities are likely to reap financial and social benefits from improving population health. “We are looking for a donor who would like to sponsor a $5 million prize in exchange for naming rights, but we do not yet have a firm commitment,” HICCup’s website says.

Dyson wants to treat the communities like startup companies. “HICCup will support the five selected Wellville communities in much the same way that a startup accelerator supports a promising business idea and leadership team. In this case, the community is the startup. And the community’s product is the production of health,” according to the site.

“What we’re trying to do is create test markets,” Dyson explains.

The challenge really is about health, not healthcare, and looking for ways to keep people healthy. “It’s much more about changing the way people live,” Dyson says. “You need to change multiple things. You can’t just do one.”

And that is where technology comes in.

A condition of participation is that each of the Wellville Five must share population-level data with HICCup. “They can use any interventions they want, but they have to publish the data,” Dyson says.

In their applications, communities had to describe plans for for creating healthier populations, based on five broad measures:

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