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City officials tap tech community to help solve public health problems

Can technology solve public health problems? City leaders think so.

At the behest of the Baltimore city health department, teams of entrepreneurs have come up with seven ways that the city could use technology to address challenges in improving public health.

The teams are comprised of students, engineers, software developers and designers that collaborated with local tech incubators to develop apps, websites or other means to tackle specific problems. They include stemming opioid overdoses, preventing infant deaths, providing resources to ex-offenders, tracking asthma or providing some other solution that the city officials would have difficulty producing on their own.

The teams have been working for the past three months and plan to present their projects to the city, and business and tech communities Thursday evening, and could end up with small city grants of $5,000 to $25,000 or other aid to complete their projects and get them up and running. The city would retain a license to use the technology but would have no ownership stake.

All the new products are expected to be used in Baltimore in some way, and some could be developed into commercial products sold to other public health departments or entities, said Mike Fried, chief information officer for the city health department.

"We wanted people to create the next big public health idea, using real time data to solve a health challenge," he said.

The program is called TECHealth, or transforming engineering for civic health, and Dr. Leana Wen, the Baltimore health commissioner, said the effort helps bolsters a city with limited resources to put toward this kind of research and development.

"We have long known the power of public-private partnerships to improve health outcomes," she said. "TECHealth builds a bridge between city government and the tech and design community so that we can work together to improve health outcomes."

For example, a project called Here4Reentry, would serve as a social media and resource tool for ex-offenders who need support when they return home from others who have had the experience.

Another project called BadBatch, , a coding program for students, would build on an alert system that the health department runs by creating an app to warn public health officials and the public when there may be particularly dangerous drugs circulating in an area.

A computer-based that system that tracks child fatalities would aid city agencies that regularly meet to discuss an infant or child death in tracking the fatalities and any follow-up necessary to avert others.

The health department plans to solicit another group of entrepreneurs in the fall to work on another set of problems.

meredith.cohn@baltsun.com

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