Penn State mHealth Challenge Casts a Wide Net for Innovative Ideas

mHealth apps designed to prevent sexual assaults, help those with lactose intolerance and enable parents to manage their children’s vaccinations took top honors during Pennsylvania State University’s recent mHealth Challenge.

The annual contest promotes collaboration between students in Penn State’s College of Nursing and the Department of Biobehavioral Health (BBH) in the College of Health and Human Development and the College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST). Teams were given one month to design a prototype of a health-focused app, then present it to a panel of judges who whittled the entries down to 13. Then six, then three.

As in past years, the contest – part of Penn State’s Global Entrepreneurship Week – highlights the innovative ideas brought into mHealth and telehealth from vocations and industries, reminding healthcare providers that some of the best concepts may come from unexpected sources.

“This challenge was unlike anything I've ever had to do before in my major, but it made me think about the information I've learned about in class and apply it to a real-life situation,” Paulina Vuong, a biobehavioral health student and member of the winning Safe Zone team, told Penn State News (

Vuong and her teammates created an app, Safe Zone, that enables users to “team up” online to keep track of each other during nights out. Designed specifically for college students, it allows users to check in with friends, identify where those friends are, and press an emergency button if they feel unsafe.

Capturing second place in the contest was Legendairy, an app that allows people with lactose intolerance to manage their lactose intake and diet.

“Having previously studied abroad in global health, I've seen firsthand the potential that emerging technologies have to increase health awareness and Mobile Health App Helps Seniors  access to care in under-resourced settings,” Alana Mazzei, a member of the Legendairy team, said in the news release. “As a BBH student, however, I had not previously learned how to make an app like this a reality.”

Coming in third was Vax Trax, an app that allows parents to manage their children’s vaccination history, including renewal reminders and information on possible side effects.

Other teams in the challenge developed apps to help children with autism, type 1 diabetes, cerebral palsy and people with MRSA.

Last year’s winners ( developed apps to help parents with newborn children, children with asthma and college students dealing with mental health issues.

“The great thing about mHealth is that most students in this class have no real experience with the medical field, and yet they get to team up with other students who do work in that industry and can offer knowledge about a growing field that IST students might work within the future,” said Megan Costello, a lecturer in information sciences and technology and faculty coordinator for the IST’s participants in last year’s competition. 

Written by: Eric Wicklund

Published by: mHealth Intelligence