The mission of the Health Innovations Lab is to catalyze the development and implementation of technological innovations to advance health in America and around the world including combatting the COVID-19 pandemic. By using “high tech, high touch” approaches to link and sync technological innovations to health, as well as engage a variety of multidisciplinary experts (policymakers, health practitioners, technologists, designers, engineers, and others), we aim to accelerate fundamental changes in the way healthcare is delivered in the Digital Age, connect people to a seamless system of care, and modernize government health programs for efficient, integrated, easy-to-use consumer-focused service delivery.
The coronavirus pandemic has revealed multiple weaknesses in America’s public health infrastructure. Significant deficiencies were exposed in surveillance, testing, contact tracing, public health communications, antiviral and vaccine availability and production, as well as in the sustainability of the supply chain for medical equipment and resources. The pandemic also shone a spotlight on the lack of effective coordination between government agencies in the U.S. and globally. This era of past neglect reflected amnesia about the devastating health and economic impacts linked to previous infectious disease outbreaks including the Spanish flu, smallpox, HIV/AIDS, Ebola, SARS, H1N1 flu, and Zika as well as the striking lack of investment in building modern, resilient public health infrastructure fit for the 21st century. Alarmingly, until only recently, the major weapons in America’s toolbox for battling the coronavirus outbreak were proven public health practices including social distancing, masking, and good hygiene – similar to those used in 1918 to combat the Spanish flu pandemic. Despite the scientific and technological revolution of the last century, the new, powerful tools of the Digital Age were not effectively or innovatively applied to address public health challenges facing us until the COVID-19 pandemic emerged.
A cornerstone of New America’s Health Innovations Lab response to the pandemic is envisioning essential components of 21st century public health infrastructure and taking actions to help build it. To do so, we are convening leading technology, public health and design experts who don’t usually work together to build new collaborative networks. Innovative partnerships are emerging between multidisciplinary professionals to develop solutions for COVID-19 surveillance, communications, testing, contact tracing, drug and vaccine development, and medical supply production and deployment. We believe that the strategies generated from addressing the coronavirus pandemic can serve as a model for how public health and technology experts must work together to respond to this national emergency as well as to future health challenges in the years ahead.
Beat the Virus
Beat the Virus is an initiative of New America’s Health Innovations Lab in collaboration with the MIT Media Lab. It has two components: 1) a social media campaign and 2) a comprehensive coronavirus resource hub which provides people with critical, trusted, and engaging public health messages and resources about the COVID-19 pandemic. It is directed by public health and technology experts working with other national and local influencers who are spreading the word on how you can help #beatthevirus with simple, clear explanations of the science.
The social media campaign, launched in March 2020 describes the individual behaviors that must be adopted to flatten the curve of the coronavirus pandemic and generated over 600 million media impressions in its first few months of operation. It has a scientific advisory council comprised of public health professionals from New America, the Tufts Public Health Program, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and the Federation of American Scientists, who collaborated with technology experts from the MIT Media Lab and the private sector. Major talent agencies mobilized their actors and athletes including Justin Bieber and Mariah Carey, to get involved with the project to amplify and disseminate coronavirus prevention public health messages. State-of-the-art analytic scaffolding developed by the MIT Media Lab evaluates how these messages are spreading and whether or not they’re reaching the communities that need them the most.
Since launching the social media campaign in March 2020, we’ve transformed the Beat the Virus webpage into a comprehensive COVID-19 online resource hub that now serves as both an educational initiative and a resource portal for information about the pandemic. This online hub is a single point of access to cutting edge information for the public, health care professionals, businesses and policymakers drawn from multiple trusted sources. It includes statistical information, clinical practice guidance, vaccine and clinical trial information, a news clipping service, public education videos, and laboratory and business guidance among other features. There’s a “take action” section with steps that people can put into practice to prevent spread of the virus including getting vaccinated. Additionally, the website includes links to the latest news updates on the virus, including New America’s International Security Program’s Coronavirus Daily Brief. As the pandemic evolves, the website is updated with the latest information on what we all must do to defeat COVID-19 in the months and years ahead.
HealthPulse is an initiative between New America and the MIT Media Lab that aims to build a 21st-century public health communications system with the intelligence to navigate our fragmented media landscape, the humanity to acknowledge diverse experiences, and the power to inspire collective, effective action. It uses mapping, through social media platforms like Twitter, to assess diverse groups’ exposure to public health guidance as well as misinformation. By conducting facilitated small-group conversations and turning into talk radio, our initiative listens to and better understands a community’s needs and develops targeted messaging interventions. Using analytics, we distill the learnings, surface themes and highlight the voices that can be used as inputs for the development and delivery of microtargeted messaging for specific audiences. Additionally, HealthPulse identifies and collaborates with community influencers who can deliver this guidance in trusted ways to the groups that need to hear it the most. This overarching methodology will allow live-saving, trustworthy public health messages to be heard, breaking through the hyper-fragmented media and political environment.
HealthPulse is piloting this approach in Atlanta, Georgia with New America’s Health Innovations Lab, the MIT Center for Constructive Communication, the Task Force for Global Health, the Institute for Local Innovations (ILI), and Cortico. The project’s goal is to deliver COVID-19 health messages that are relevant, trusted and effective at motivating healthy behavior within Atlanta communities hard hit by the pandemic, particularly Black communities. Its method combines locally-grounded input from the Atlanta community with advanced media analytics to translate public health guidance into messages — delivered by trusted influencers — that resonate with local audiences. Key relationships in the Atlanta area enable us to apply our approach with knowledge of the local environment — including institutions and individuals who are already working to combat the pandemic’s impact. The initiative creates opportunities for Black Atlantan communities deeply and disproportionately impacted by the financial, psychological, and social costs of the pandemic to learn more about COVID-19 health information particularly the vaccine; develop trust in the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness; and feel more secure about taking it themselves as well as recommending others do the same. Objectives of the project include sustaining HealthPulse as an enduring public health support system in Atlanta as well as scaling the HealthPulse system beyond this region to serve as a novel health communications network fit for the 21st century.
Beat the Virus/Axios/Generation Lab Youth Survey on assessing vaccine and pandemic behaviors in college students
Young people are a key population to be vaccinated if we are to beat the virus and end the COVID-19 pandemic. For this reason, in April 2021, coinciding with spring break at universities, the Health Innovations Lab conducted a survey of 808 college students in partnership with Axios and the Generation Lab to assess their attitudes towards the pandemic and COVID-19 vaccines. Findings from the survey revealed that while vaccine confidence was high among youth who participated in the study, over half still planned to travel over spring break against CDC recommendations. The survey also found that young adults trust their personal doctors (69%) and public health officials (55%) most when it comes to vaccine endorsements. Axios published the results of our survey findings. The survey data can be found at BeatTheVirus.org and in the articles listed below.
Writings and Briefings from the Health Innovations Lab Team
- Covid-19 has exposed the US’ need to invest in public health
- Covid-19 provides an opportunity to reimagine health care
- Masks are lifesaving public health tools – let’s rate them accordingly
- This group of workers could help turn around the quality of life – and the economy
- The best way to make masks work against COVID-19
- Researchers should study how COVID-19 Affects Women
- 5 Way we can prepare for the Coronavirus
- World War III: Fighting an invisible enemy
- The Coronavirus Pandemic: Public Health Actions to #FlattentheCurve
- Young people hold the key: flattening the curve of the COVID-19 pandemic
- The Zika Virus: Pandemic Preparedness is needed now
- AIDS to Ebola: Moving from Peril to Progress
- Flu in the 21st Century
Below are New America webinar panels that the Health Innovations Lab hosted or participated in during the COVID-19 pandemic:
- Care After COVID
- The US Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic
- MIT/New America Vaccines for All Conference
About The Health Innovations Lab
Health is a final frontier of the digital revolution. Over the past decade, technology has been integrated into the daily life of all Americans, dramatically transforming the way we live and work and connecting people across communities and countries. At the Health Innovations Lab, we work to catalyze the development and implementation of technological innovations for advancing health in America and worldwide.
Director: Rear Admiral Susan Blumenthal, MD, Former US Assistant Surgeon General
Our Focus Areas Include