ONC funds developer challenge to spur health IT innovation

By Mary Mosquera
09:45 AM

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT has launched a program to spur innovation that uses prizes and developer competitions to expedite the creation of tools to solve health IT challenges.

Under the Investing in Innovations (i2) Initiative, ONC has awarded about $5 million to the Capital Consulting Corp. (CCC) , a professional management services company, and Health 2.0 LLC, a company that hosts code-a-thons and conferences, to fund projects for two years supporting breakthroughs in research and encouraging health IT development through open innovation methods.

The use of prizes and competitions is widely regarded as a powerful method to attract innovators from all walks of life to solve thorny problems with the added benefit of only rewarding best-in-class work, according to the ONC June 8 announcement. 

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The approach enables quick response to emerging issues that are difficult to address with more traditional funding approaches.

The effort demonstrates the importance of investing in innovations and provides a platform that will attract an expanded community of innovators to the full range of the agency's programs, said Dr. Farzad Mostashari, national coordinator for health IT.

“It opens the door to new opportunities for open collaboration from a wide range of diverse individuals and organizations that will increase the national rate of innovation and adoption of health IT as we improve health care of all Americans," he said.

Health 2.0 has conducted 22 developer challenges, including one announced earlier this week to make publicly available Medicare claims data files more accessible for researchers and data entrepreneurs to use and manipulate to build online applications, as part of Health 2.0 week.

The i2 Initiative will consult hospitals, doctors, consumers, payers, states, employers, advocates, and relevant federal agencies to gather feedback and to build partnerships.

Examples of health IT competition topics developed with CCC and Health 2.0 include applications that enable an individual to securely and effectively share health information with members of his or her social network and applications that provide for the exchange of health information while letting individuals customize the privacy preferences for their personal health records. 

The i2 Initiative will also support analysis of the current health IT environment in order to track and model clusters of innovation, while at the same time identifying connections between disparate innovator communities.

CCC and Health 2.0 will also support the up-to-date analysis of relevant, emerging innovations and associated trends that will help ONC and other HHS agencies better understand them. 

The Veterans Affairs Department also has an ongoing innovations initiative (VAi2) to test technology applications developed through a competition to find innovative methods for VA healthcare challenges, including homelessness, expanding online healthcare and strategies for treating kidney disease on an outpatient basis.