Employing a Public Health Approach to Gun Violence Prevention

By Sandra Butler

From April through June 2018, the Consortium for Affordable Medical Technologies (CAMTech) employed a public health approach to gun violence prevention by sourcing pain points and solutions for unmet needs in gun violence prevention.  CAMTech, based at Massachusetts General Hospital, uses an innovation methodology to identify pressing clinical and public health needs, crowdsource innovative solutions and accelerate ideas towards commercialization and patient impact.  After the mass shooting in Las Vegas in November 2017, CAMTech wondered if the same innovation methodology we have used to address a range of unmet clinical needs – from maternal and child health in India to road safety in Uganda to the opioid epidemic in the U.S. – could also be used to address the gun violence epidemic.

The data show mortality rates from gun violence rival diseases like sepsis and hypertension, and yet the funding to research gun violence is a fraction of what diseases like sepsis and hypertension receive.  In fact, there were only three National Institutes of Health research grants to explore firearm injuries between 1973 – 2012; just recently a fourth was awarded.  Politics aside, people are dying from gun violence at rates that deserve and demand action, and those practicing clinical medicine and public health need to respond to curb morbidity and mortality just as we would for any other epidemic.

CAMTech understands well how its co-creation model identifies unmet health needs and convenes people from a variety of backgrounds to solve for those unmet needs, but employing a public health approach to gun violence prevention required input from experts in gun violence. We engaged experts in gun violence at institutions like the Massachusetts General Hospital Gun Violence Prevention Coalition, the Penn Injury Science Center, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the Boston University School of Public Health and Johns Hopkins University to better inform the design of the Gun Violence Prevention Challenge Summit, Hack-a-thon & Demo Day.

In these conversations, we learned about the four different types of gun violence: self-inflicted, gun assaults, accidental shootings, and mass shootings. While mass shootings attract a lot of media attention, they account for a small portion of deaths from gun violence. Self-inflicted gun violence is the most prevalent cause of gun-related morbidity and mortality: it accounts for two-thirds of fatalities from gun violence, or approximately 22,000 Americans each year. Data show suicide attempts are highly impulsive, with many people deciding within minutes or hours of the attempt to take their own life, and using a gun makes the highly-impulsive attempt highly lethal.

Experts in gun violence also cited successes of using a public health approach in smoking cessation and highlighted the parallels that could be drawn to do the same in gun violence prevention. A significant piece of the successful public health approach to reduce smoking was marketing and communications campaigns to change popular opinion around smoking, vital to change how politicians voted on legislation.

CAMTech used this input from experts to structure the Gun Violence Prevention Challenge Summit, which gathered experts in the field and survivors of gun violence to facilitate a discussion of challenges and provide critical insight into gun violence prevention.  Boston’s Mayor Marty Walsh and Police Commissioner Billy Evans both spoke about efforts the City of Boston is undertaking to keep people safe and save lives, particularly in communities disproportionately affected by gun violence.

Mayor Marty Walsh addresses innovators during CAMTech’s Gun Violence Prevention Challenge Summit and discusses the City of Boston’s initiatives to curb gun violence and save lives.
Boston Police Commissioner Billy Evans and Dr. Peter Masiakos, pediatric surgeon at MGH, discuss the intersection of law enforcement and health and how cross-disciplinary collaboration can save lives.

After identifying challenges related to gun violence prevention, CAMTech considered how solutions – be it hardware, software, communication campaigns or system improvements – could be designed to curb the gun violence epidemic and improve the lives of survivors. Following the Challenge Summit, the Gun Violence Prevention Hack-a-thon served as an open innovation platform for a diverse community to co-create innovations over a 48-hour period.

Teams form at the hackathon and begin designing solutions to solve for unmet needs to curb gun violence and improve the lives of survivors

The Gun Violence Prevention Demo Day incentivized innovators to continue working on their solutions beyond the Hack-a-thon.  In June 2018, 60 days post-Hack-a-thon, CAMTech held the Demo Day where all teams from the Hack-a-thon were eligible to pitch their solutions and compete for a $10k grand prize and six months of acceleration support through the CAMTech Accelerator Program (CAP).  While funding is important for early-stage innovations, CAMTech has found that perhaps even more instrumental is the project management and acceleration support provided through the CAP.

An expert panel of judges listened to compelling pitches, deliberated and awarded the grand prize to Team Good Guy with a Gun, which includes Dr. Peter Greenspan of Massachusetts General Hospital, Kaleigh Killoran of Harvard Business School, Zoe Wolszon of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Christian Paxson, a Special Forces Weapons Sargent and firearms instructor – who met at the hackathon.  Team Good Guy with a Gun is an app-based educational tool that uses embedded Public Service Announcements to train gun owners about gun safety.

Sandra Butler, MPH, is the Senior Manager of Global Business Strategy at Consortium for Affordable Medical Technologies (CAMTech), Massachusetts General Hospital. CAMTech works at the intersection of social value and business value, providing a platform to identify unmet healthcare needs and develop solutions to address them, grounded in co-creation.  Our methodology supports solutions from ideation as they continue towards commercialization and, importantly, patient impact. The Gun Violence Prevention Program is one initiative to address the gun violence epidemic and until we see morbidity and mortality rates from gun violence decrease, we all must vigilantly work to address this public health crisis.