Race is on for iPhone-like health IT apps

By Bernie Monegain
09:42 AM

A new platform created specifically to boost healthcare IT innovation is now available to the public, kicking off a $5,000 competition that challenges developers to create Web applications for patients, physicians and public health.

Researchers at Children's Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School created SMArt (Substitutable Medical Applications, reusable technologies) platform architecture to support a flexible health information technology environment and promote innovation. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology awarded $15 million for the project in April 2010 through the Strategic Health IT Advanced Research Projects (SHARP) program.

[See also: Some SHARP ideas for health IT.]

First described in a March 2009 New England Journal of Medicine article the SMArt architecture is an iPhone-like health IT platform model that aims to transform the way health IT supports healthcare by facilitating the development of medical applications that are scalable and substitutable. The goal is to drive competition, innovation and increased efficiency in the functionality of technology for improved health care.

[See also: Children’s Hospital Boston at work on iPhone-like app.]

The SMArt project will enable the equivalent of an iTunes App Store for health and support applications ranging from medication managers for patients at home to e-prescribing applications and decision support for physicians in the office.

"The goal of this model is to enable a substantial shift towards technologies that are flexible and able to quickly adapt to meet the various needs of their users on a variety of devices," said Kenneth Mandl, MD, of the Children's Hospital Informatics Program and Harvard Medical School, and co-lead on the SMArt project. "As developers begin to compete on quality, value and usability, we expect to see the introduction of an array of innovative functions and a drop in the cost of healthcare technology. Just as staple applications of the iPad, Android, and Blackberry platforms constantly evolve and compete to meet user demands, the SMArt platform will enable health IT to do the same."

In August, Mandl and Isaac Kohane, MD, also with the Children’s Hospital Informatic Program and Harvard Medical School and co-lead on the SMArt project, held a SMArt developer meeting that included more than 60 representatives from academia, government and business.

Multiple prototypes of the SMArt platform were presented and feedback was collected from software developers and the health IT community. Following that meeting, the team built the SMArt platform architecture and interface that was made publicly available March 9.

"There is an enormous talent pool available in our country's developers and entrepreneurs to help drive new Web and mobile health IT solutions that support healthcare functions," said Kohane. "Through this competition we hope to excite this pool, to spark their imaginations and partner with them to move new ideas forward."

"Future developments in health IT should always be driven by empowering physicians and improving patient care," addd Wil Yu, director of the SHARP program at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT.

Developers interested in learning more about the SMArt project and/or participating in the SMArt health app challenge may visit www.smartplatforms.org/challenge for complete details. Entrants are eligible to receive an award – $5,000 and release in an "App Store" –  for best application. The deadline for submission is May 31, 2011 11:59PM EDT.

The judges
A panel of industry leaders has been assembled to judge the challenge and will review submitted apps and announce winners in June 2011. Judges will include Susanna Fox, director of Health Research at the Pew Internet & American Life Project; Regina Herzlinger, the Nancy R. McPherson Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School; David Kibbe, senior advisor to the American Academy of Family Physicians and principal at The Kibbe Group LLC; Ben Shneiderman, professor of Computer Science at the Human-Computer Interaction Laboratory at the University of Maryland, College Park; Doug Solomon, chief technology officer at IDEO; Edward Tufte, professor emeritus of Political Science, Statistics, and Computer Science at Yale University; and Jim Walker, chief health information officer at Geisinger Health Systems.