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HHS announces $1M prize for primary care innovation for underserved communities


Challenge seeks ideas on connecting patients with primary care and social supports such as transportation, food and housing.

HHS announces $1M prize for primary care innovation for underserved communities

The federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) hopes a $1 million prize purse might inspire ideas to improve access to primary care for people in underserved populations.

HHS’ Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) has announced “Building Bridges to Better Health: A Primary Health Care Challenge,” a national competition to encourage innovation for about 1,400 community health centers across the United States. Winners will develop low-cost, scalable solutions for the centers to improve patient access to primary care and links with appropriate social services.

The administration is “asking innovators to join us in the work to improve health outcomes in historically underserved communities,” HRSA Administrator Carole Johnson said in a news release. “We look forward to the creative and novel ideas the community will bring to the table as we work together to improve health equity and increase access to health care and social services.”

Overcoming barriers

HRSA’s Health Center Program funds community health centers to provide primary and preventive health care for underserved people and families, including the homeless, agricultural workers, and residents of public housing.

The competition aims to improve health outcomes for them by increasing links between primary care and community supports such as transportation, food, and housing, according to HRSA. The administration recognizes social determinants of health (SDOH), such as income, education, employment, housing, social support and transportation, have “profound effects” on health.

The Building Bridges to Better Health contest includes a challenge problem statement: “Health center patients experience multiple barriers that may reduce access to health care and increase the risk of poor health outcomes due to environmental factors related to health in the places where they live, learn, work, and play. These environmental factors prevent patients from accessing quality primary health care and make it more difficult to address the non-medical, health-related social needs of patients. This Challenge should address barriers to health and health-related social risk factors, such as barriers to accessing medical, social, housing, educational, or other related services.”

Innovators needed

The competition “is open to broad public participation” by individuals and organizations such as universities and community-based groups. A panel of at least five federal health care leaders will serve as judges.

There will be three rounds of proposals and winners, with the first concepts due Aug. 2 and the first winners, up to 30 awardees receiving $10,000 each, will be announced in September, according to HRSA. Phase 2 will involve prototype development and testing, with a total prize purse up to $300,000. Phase 3 will be scaling the concepts, with up to eight awardees dividing a $400,000 purse, including $150,000 to the first-place winner.

“It takes all of us working together to find innovative solutions that can help improve the conditions that affect people’s health and well-being,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a news release. “At HHS, we are committed to addressing health disparities and breaking down barriers to care. Earlier this spring we launched our whole-of-government strategy to address social determinants of health, and now we look forward to partnering with innovators across the country to implement the best and brightest ideas to make health care more equitable for all.”

More information is available at challenge.gov.

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