Catalyzing the app store for EHRs

Dr. Lumpkin serves as director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Health Group, where he is responsible for planning and program management. Prior to joining RWJ, Dr. Lumpkin led the Illinois Department of Public Health for 12 years. As  assistant vice president, Downs plays a leading role on the Foundation's Pioneer Portfolio team. During his tenure at the Foundation he has created, developed,  or overseen the  Foundation’s investments  in such key initiatives as Project HealthDesign, InformationLinks, the Health e-Technologies Initiative, the Public Health Informatics Institute, Connecting for Health, and Common GroundHis writings may be found at Pioneering Ideas, where this post first appeared.

Iphone_health Recently, Steve posted about the idea, floated by Ken Mandl and Zak Kohane, that EHRs (or health IT more broadly) could move to a model of competitive, substitutable applications running off a platform that would provide secure medical record storage.  In other words, the iPhone app model, but, for example, you could have an e-prescribing app that runs over an EHR instead of the Yelp restaurant review app on your iPhone.  We’re thinking about the provider side of the market here, as Google Health and Microsoft HealthVault are already doing this on the consumer side.

It’s nice to ponder these “what ifs,” but we’re a bit more action-oriented here and we’ve turned our attention to asking what it would take to make this happen.  It seems that there are two things that are needed. First, we need the platform.  Some of the most notable platforms started out as proprietary that were then opened up.  The IBM PC comes to mind as an example. Some were designed from the beginning to be open platforms with limited functionality until the market started developing applications.  A recent example is the development of iGoogle and the tons of applications that are available for free.  Finally, there was the purely public domain development from the beginning to end that we've seen in the Linux world.  Or perhaps we don’t need a common platform and maybe what is needed is to stimulate the market for health IT products that have open application programming interfaces (APIs) that allow for third-party application development?  Several ideas come to mind.

A venture fund for platform providers. 

Perhaps the key is to put more money behind companies that offer EHRs that allow 3rd party app development.  Will seeding a fund convince other investors to get in?  Are there startup ventures out there that could take advantage of the fund?

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