How we spent our holiday vacation at HealthVault

Our most recent HealthVault release dropped to production right at the end of November, which left us with a bit of an awkward period of time before starting in earnest on the next one. With hundreds of different apps connecting to HealthVault, we always find an issue or two that doesn’t show up in our internal test passes, so we schedule in time for a “Quick Fix” release to clean those up.* Between that and upcoming holidays, it seemed a perfect opportunity to do something fun with the team.

Thus was born the 2013 HealthVault Team App Challenge --- a resurrection of an event we haven’t done for a few years, where we form teams to create health and wellness apps that we think are missing in the market, explore some new or interesting technology, or frankly are just fun. These are personal projects, not part of HealthVault, so there’s a ton of flexibility.

We ran the competition through December and early January --- and on Friday afternoon we had our demo and voting session, complete with awesome home-brew beer made by the multi-talented HV operations team (is that Seattle enough for you?).

We ended up with 16 entries, and of course, the winners were pretty great:

  1. The grand prize winner “flo” was created by our largest team. Pretty much all of the women on the team (and two intrepid dudes!) collaborated to build a menstruation tracker for Windows 8 and Windows Phone --- I think they had as much fun trying to make the guys blush during the demo as they did building the apps! But in seriousness, Kathy pointed out that “Mom” has been our target user for years, yet this functionality is completely lacking in the platform… hopefully something we will remedy starting with this work.

  2. “CoachVault” took second prize … a web and mobile tool to help sports coaches manage medical waivers and emergency information for their teams. I had to manage this for little league “all stars” a few years ago --- clearly there is a need here and it was remarkably how quickly it came together using HealthVault as the core. These guys went further and added the ability to track drills and activities, even reporting individual performance back to HealthVault so kids and parents could see their progress. Sweet!

  3. Bronze went to “Crunches for Cake” … a simple but compelling iPhone app that helps dimensionalize the “cost” of eating choices. The user selects a food (by search or barcode scan), picks an activity, and the app computes how long you’d have to do the activity to burn off the food. Some of these numbers were pretty sobering … but it’s a hard app to put down once you start digging in!

But what was really amazing was the depth of the field --- I was impressed with every single one. In addition to the winner, we saw:

  • A mobile Eczema flare tracker complete with camera integration and provider reporting,
  • Emergency info lock screen apps for Windows Phone and Android,
  • An innovative way to track food choices without having to remember every calorie,
  • A tool to help people search into their health information more effectively,
  • Connections to Excel for analysis, Lync for richer doctor-patient communication, and RunKeeper to link data there into our broader ecosystem,
  • A mobile app to help find interesting walks and runs near your location, and
  • A LinkedIn-like social networking app to help folks with similar conditions find each other.

I was proud of the idea behind my entry --- a tool to help find identify patterns of behavior that lead to negative outcomes like stress or low energy (feel free to play with it here) … but it was crystal clear that I’d better spend some weekend time refreshing my UI skills because the state of the art is leaving me in the dust!

Many times over the years I’ve been writing this blog I’ve said how proud I am to be part of the HealthVault team. The folks here care deeply about what they do, and bring a passion to the challenge that’s unmatched anywhere I’ve ever been. Helping people live better really is a great way to spend the day, and it’s great to have an event like the App Challenge keep that in focus.



* What constitutes a legitimate “quick fix” is always up for debate … the team often accuses me of trying to characterize my feature requests as quick fixes. ;)