Judging Health 2.0 and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s SDOH Challenge

The Contest and Health 2.0

I recently had the privilege of being a judge for Health 2.0’s Social Determinants of Health Challenge. The first round is now complete, and the semifinalists have been announced (see below). Congratulations to the five organizations moving on from the 110 that entered the contest!


Courtesy of Health 2.0


The contest was sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and challenged entrants to develop a digital solution to help providers and/or patients connect to services related to social determinants of health (SDOH). Contestants were asked to submit a pitch deck explaining their product, as well as a wireframe that showed what users would experience and how the product would work. I was naturally drawn to the contest to see what ideas and tools might be the in next round of solutions for the quickly evolving SDOH market.

For those not familiar with Health 2.0, it is the organization led by Matthew Holt and Dr. Indu Sudaiya. They are focused on identifying, promoting, and acting as a catalyst for new technologies in healthcare.  In addition to contests like this, Health 2.0 does a variety of things, including hosting their forthcoming annual conference in Santa Barbara, September 16-18th.

Before the contest, I met Matthew briefly when he moderated an America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) panel “Where is Digital Health Headed in 2021?” where I served as one of the panelists. We briefly bonded during the panel when we both agreed that it would be best if the term Digital Health were to be killed - or at least permanently put out to pasture - by 2021. We agreed the need to carve out “digital health” was increasingly unnecessary, as digital interfaces are now a mainstay in our daily healthcare routines. Perhaps it was that moment of solidarity that motivated Health 2.0 to give me a shot as a judge for their contest. I can’t be sure.

The Submissions

The entrants’ SDOH solutions were a mixed bag of sophistication, with some offering nascent thoughts on the platform they planned to design, while others submitted well-designed, polished, and market-ready solutions. From my perspective, an idea does not constitute a product and the execution of an idea is a major factor in how successful the product will be. Therefore, I generally gave higher scores to submissions that could show how they worked.

Certain contestants focused on mental health solutions specifically, without tying the mental health challenge to a social circumstance. All these solutions may help solve a problem, but I found them hard to grade highly in an SDOH contest. Others were focused on complex problems like post-maternal depression and anxiety that are outside the realm of what is typically considered a social determinant of health. This led me to question the boundaries of how we define SDOH, and which problems we should be dedicating resources toward. Despite my challenges in judging the variety of submissions, three key questions emerged repeatedly, and all semifinalists were addressing them.  

1.     How do we connect and most effectively share information among healthcare organizations to government agencies and community services providers?

·      This is the question that Community Resource Network is helping to solve. They created an SDOH client profile to help medical, behavioral, and social organizations coordinate services for at-risk populations.

·      Another contestant, Project Well, created a service that provides personalized food services.

2.     How do we make people aware of the social services that are available in the community where they live?

·      This question is being addressed by semifinalist Open City Labs, which specializes in auto-filling government and community services providers’ forms, to get patients connected with existing services with minimal effort.

·      It’s also being addressed by Smart Community Health, that uses cutting edge technology to provide personalized information about community resources that are available.

·      Project Well provides people with chronic disease and limited financial resources combat food insecurity and social isolation.   

3.     How do we leverage emerging technology to better address societal problems?   

·      Social Impact AI Lab New York set out to address this problem by drawing on artificial intelligence (AI) to specifically target social disconnection and its role in undermining child welfare.

Takeaways from the contest

It was not surprising that a contest by Health 2.0 and sponsored by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation would generate strong interest. Still, I did not expect to see over 100 submissions covering such a wide variety of topics within SDOH. I take this as an indication that the recent attention devoted to SDOH is generating an influx of solutions, and that is likely to continue to grow for years to come. This means we’ll see more startups entering the market, as well as increasing interest in SDOH digital solutions from existing companies in the healthcare industry and beyond. For example, on July 22, a video was posted of Salesforce’s Chief Medical Officer describing how their cloud service could help address SDOH. At Spring Street, we believe that the increasing interest in SDOH throughout the healthcare market, and the rise of SDOH digital services are good things that can help push the industry towards much needed transformation. Time will tell. We’ll be out there every day trying to help make it happen.