Some SHARP ideas for health IT

By Mike Miliard
08:11 AM

Several leaders of the Strategic Health IT Advanced Research Projects Program (SHARP) showed HIMSS11 attendees how they are – in the words of Charles Friedman, PhD, chief science officer of the ONC – "moving the needle forward" on breakthrough healthcare technology.

SHARP focuses on research aimed at removing the barriers to more widespread health IT adoption. Its five initiatives – concentrating on security, cognitive support, application and platform architectures, secondary use of EHR data and interoperability – are working in concert to arrive at a "high-performing, continuously-learning" healthcare system, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Among the projects described at Monday’s forum, which sought to increase vendor engagement with those federal research efforts, is a first-of-kind health IT "app store" that is designed to drive down costs, support standards evolution, accommodate different clinician workflows, increase market competition and quicken the pace of innovation.

Kenneth Mandl, MD, of Children’s Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School, envisioned a future where electronic medical records emulate the iPhone platform – one in which different and substitutable apps could be widely distributed across disparate EMRs.

The common application programming interface (API), he said, would enable movement of data across large hospital installs or home-grown systems, physician practices or open-source EMRs. That substitutable platform would allow for "changes and innovation in health IT that are not supported by current model," said Mandl. To help spur innovation along these lines, he touted the SMArt Health App $5,000 Challenge, which kicks off in March and, once the winner is chosen, should see the app store open by next April.

Christopher Chute, MD, of the Mayo Clinic, whose work focuses on secondary use of data, spoke about the promising health applications of natural language processing technology. Chute reminded the crowd of the Jeopardy! victory last week of IBM's Watson supercomputer.

Watson is built around unstructured information management architecture, he said, and the Mayo Clinic was the alpha user of the UIMA framework in 2003. The clinic, he added, was able to convince IBM to make UIMA open-source.

"My point," said Chute, "is that, yes, we are an academic group, and, yes, we're focused on fairly abstract issues. However, we're doing it in a way that we think will be commercially scalable and usable. We're using commercial-grade platforms. And if Watson didn't convince you that this can be fast and efficient and effective, then I don't know what would."