HHS opens innovators program to public voting

For the first time, the public can vote on their favorite innovation from among the finalists of the HHSinnovates Program, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced this past Friday.

Launched in the spring of 2010 as part of HHS’s open government efforts, HHSinnovates is meant to recognize innovative projects from HHS employees aimed at helping solve thorny healthcare challenges.

“The HHSinnovates Program recognizes and rewards good ideas and facilitates the exchange of innovations throughout the Department and beyond,” said Secretary Sebelius. “Innovative ideas and practices aren’t restricted to the private sector: government workers are developing new ideas and facilitating connections to improve the way government works and improve the health of all Americans.”

[See also: HHS aims to cut medical errors.]

Twice a year, HHS employees are invited to submit their innovations, and the top picks are posted for secure, online voting by the entire HHS community. Six finalists are chosen and publicly announced. The Secretary then selects her top picks.

Now, for the first time, the public will pick the “People’s Choice” winner. In the program’s fifth round, the public is invited to choose from among six finalists. They come from 60 total submissions from across HHS, officials say, noting that each embodies an innovative spirit, and is scalable and replicable:

The 100K Pathogen Genome Project. This collaborative project, originating from the Food and Drug Administration, academia, and industry partners, aims to sequence the genetic codes (genome) of 100,000 strains of important food pathogens (tiny organisms that cause food-borne illnesses – bacteria, viruses and others) and make them available in a free and public database at the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) National Center for Biotechnology Information.  Open access to sequences allows researchers to develop tests that can identify bacteria present in a food within a matter of hours or days, significantly faster than the two weeks it now takes to grow and analyze bacterial cultures conventionallyNational Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Exchange. NIH’s NIAID developed an internal supply exchange for their institute called “NIAID Exchange” to help increase the speed and efficiency of government.  They developed a user-friendly Web resource where staff can advertise existing government-owned scientific and office equipment and supplies they no longer need and search for available items advertised by other staff members.  The NIAID program has saved over $30,000 since its release to the institute last January.Online Food Handler Training Project. The Albuquerque Area Indian Health Service (IHS) led the development of an online food handler certification program that trains an average of 3,500 food handlers a year in class room food handler trainings, while compensating for a 20 percent reduction in staff.  This novel training program, which was developed in collaboration with local partners, incorporates the principles of adult learning and story-telling in a way that is culturally sensitive and resonates with tribal customers.  The training is available to the public on the IHS website, and numerous people from across the country has registered and initiated the training.Development and Use of Coal Dust Explosibility Meter. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health in association with industry and commercial partners developed a coal dust meter that gives users real-time feedback on environmental conditions – a significant improvement over the lengthy measurement procedure currently employed.  This tool, which gives immediate results, represents an improved means for underground coal miners and coal mine operators to assess the relative hazard of dust accumulations in their mines.  To date, more than 200 of these devices have been sold and are being deployed in mines across the United States.National Health Service Corps Jobs Center. Many underserved communities remain underserved because it is very difficult to recruit physicians to high-need areas; in some instances it can take up to two years and $60,000.  To help improve this process, the Health Resources and Services Administration’s National Health Service Corps established the NHSC Jobs Center, an online employment site connecting thousands of job-seeking medical professionals, doctors, nurses, dentists, and mental health providers in primary care disciplines to thousands of employers in underserved communities throughout the United States and U.S. territories.National Institute of Health Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tools. The National Institute of Health developed a Research Health Portfolio Online Reporting Tool (RePORT) that serves as a one-stop shop to provide the public with an interactive suite of tools to search NIH-funded research and the work of its investigators.  By providing the scientific community with better tools to explore the portfolio of NIH-funded research, RePORT furthers progress to foster fundamental creative discoveries, innovative research strategies, and their applications.

[See also: HHS aims to spur software apps development.]

Public voting is open until Sept. 14, 2012. Winners will be announced on Sept. 24. To learn more, visit the HHSinnovates website.

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