HHS launches cash contest for health IT app designers

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT has launched a pair of cash prize contests for health IT developers building apps using the increasingly popular electronic health record standard Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources — better known as FHIR.

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT has launched a pair of cash prize contests for health IT developers building apps using the increasingly popular electronic health record standard Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources — better known as FHIR.  

The two competitions each offer prizes totaling $175,000 and focus on different communities: health care consumers and providers. Both require the use of nonprofit standards organization Health Level 7’s FHIR — pronounced “fire” — application programming interface. It’s part of a push by ONC to drive wider adoption of interoperable standards in products using the vast variety of patient data that is being generated in the health care industry.

The open source FHIR has been touted for its widespread use around the world. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services decided in December 2015 to use FHIR to make the Blue Button record-sharing service more API- and developer-friendly. 

The hope of ONC — the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s health IT arm — is that these app challenges will spur interest in open, standardized and provider-agnostic APIs that will improve consumers’ experiences accessing their growing abundance of EHRs.   


“This strategy will help us reach the consumer- and provider-friendly future of health IT we all seek,” Karen DeSalvo, national coordinator for health IT, said in a statement. “It reflects our guiding principles that consumers and providers should have easy, secure access to health information and the ability to direct that information when and where it is needed most.”

The consumer app challenge will focus on consumers’ “ability to easily and electronically access their health data from different health care providers using a variety of different health IT systems,” according to the challenge description. The provider app challenge, on the other hand, “will focus on demonstrating how data made accessible to apps through APIs can positively impact providers’ experience with EHRs by making clinical workflows more intuitive, specific to clinical specialty, and actionable.”

Both challenges follow the same format. There will be two phases for each — one for the development of business and technical plans, and another for the actual production of the app software. Likewise, for both, ONC will award up to five winners of phase one between $5,000 and $15,000 for their plans, In phase two, one grand winner will walk away with $50,000, and a second place winner will receive $25,000, as will another participant that “connects to the greatest number of unique pairs of EHR vendor system/provider using FHIR.”

ONC is also granting an additional $275,000 for the development of an open app portal “that makes it easier for developers to publish their apps and for providers to discover and compare them,” according to the funding’s description.   

Submissions to the app challenges are due by May 30. Proposals for the larger app portal are due April 30. 

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