Sharecare, Boston University Launch New Community Well-Being Index

The new index would measure more than 60 variables, including the built environment, education and community context, and even the weather and crime.

The digital health company Sharecare has joined with Boston University’s School of Public Health (SPH) to build a new community well-being measurement tool, which the partners say will account for a person’s access to health resources, overall health risk, and “readiness to change.”

The Community Well-Being Index promises to take data points that many health indexes track and put them in a broader context, by measuring things like genetics, lifestyle choices and social factors—as well as things like an area’s weather, crime levels, and how walkable the community is.

Sharecare had previously partnered with Gallup to measure physical, financial, and social factors, surveying 2.5 million Americans over a 10-year period. During that partnership, data revealed rising rates of diabetes and obesity as well as the challenges of bringing change to community and workplace cultures. Year after year, the same states fared well and the same ones were at the bottom of health rankings, similar to those that rank poorly in CDC measures of diabetes, obesity, wealth, and access to health coverage.

Across healthcare, there is intense interest in addressing social determinants of health (SDOH), as evidence accumulates that the best healthcare interventions are limited in their ability to unravel decades of poor diet, little exercise, and unhealthy habits and environments. There’s intense discussion on the best way to do that, however—health systems realize they must deal with SDOH to hold down costs, so entrepreneurs like Solera Health are helping health plans find partners to deliver healthy food; CareMore Health has taken on senior loneliness.

Under the new partnership, Sharecare will work with Boston University SPH and its Biostatistics and Epidemiology Data Analytics Center (BEDAC) to supplement the data already gathered with more than 60 variables that measure the built environment, health and healthcare, education, social and community context, and a person’s economic stability. Sharecare will provide de-identified data it has gathered with its RealAge health risk assessment, which 45 million people have taken, along with health tracker data on steps, sleep, and stress that users have given Sharecare permission to use. Sharecare is also working with partners to gather other de-identified data sources, such as grocery receipts, lab results, and prescription fills, to build the most robust possible index.

“We are committed to delivery on a higher ledge of community-driven care, and the work we are doing with Boston University takes the concept of meeting users where they are in their health journey to a whole new level,” Jeff Arnold, co-founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Sharecare, said in a statement. The new, improved index “will advance our ability to deliver the right interventions to people at the right time, which not only will improve their personal health, but also the places where they work, live, and play.”

Data from the new index will be used to deliver customized information to Sharecare users on the effects their environment is having on their health, using the RealAge technology. People could receive reminders to pack workout clothes or get suggestions on places where they could take a walk after sitting in traffic, according to Sharecare.

The improved data collection will support Sharecare’s Blue Zones Project, which integrates healthier living across communities and has now reached 48 cities in 11 states; Sharecare said in a statement it has boosted productivity and lowered healthcare costs through the initiative.

Sandro Galea, MD, MPH, DrPH, dean of Boston University SPH, said the partnership offers a chance to put the principles of population health science into action, and the data repository will become “an actionable toolkit for public health researchers across the country.”