bst2012 - Fotolia


Health app development contests devised by HHS, ONC

A pair of government healthcare agencies announced three contests that will award six-figure sums to developers that make apps that are assets to patients and providers.

As part of an effort to spur more development of mobile applications that are useful to consumers and providers, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT announced two health app development challenges for developers and entrepreneurs. The competitions were announced on March 1, 2016, and were paired with an additional funding opportunity that revolves around the creation of an open resource that simplifies the process of publishing health apps.

To encourage health app development, ONC and HHS plan to award a sum of $625,000 to technology innovators that leverage HL7 International's Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) standard and stimulate interest in open APIs. The financial rewards tied to the following three ONC and HHS challenges should serve as positive reinforcement for entrepreneurs who are trying to innovate within the healthcare industry.

Health app development challenges and rewards

Health Information usability and accessibility:
This challenge offers $175,000 in total prizes, which will be distributed to the developers that create consumer-facing apps that can leverage open, standardized APIs. The winning app will help aggregate health information from different sources into one meaningful record that consumers can self-manage.

App interactions with EHRs:
The second challenge concerns development of an app that will improve provider's interactions with EHRs. The app must be able to leverage APIs to positively affect physicians' experiences with using EHRs. The total prize for this challenge is also $175,000.

Community-based app repository:
To promote the adoption of health apps, ONC and HHS are offering up to $275,000 towards construction of a community-based app store. The goal is to make a platform to which app developers can publish their health apps, and their users, such as care providers, can provide feedback on them.

When evaluating the current state of health app development, it's evident that the private sector offers some of the most effective products. Many technology firms have developed personal health record systems that target patients and providers, but many of them suffer from a lack of true interoperability between vendors. Also, some EHR vendors have released apps that store patient health data. Again, most of that data is stationary and remains in the app.

Attempts to create Web-based personal health records systems have returned mixed results at best. In some cases, they have been abandoned due to a lack of interoperability and poor data exchange. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and ONC are both aware of the challenges that many vendors, including app vendors, face when it comes to the lack of efficient HIE. Andy Slavitt, acting administrator of CMS, sent a strong message about data sharing to technology vendors in a speech delivered at the J.P. Morgan Annual Healthcare Conference. He said that companies that deliberately interfere with the expansion of interoperability by practicing data blocking "will find that it won't be tolerated."

The ONC is also publicly committed to the open exchange of healthcare data, as outlined in its interoperability roadmap. Should the plans of these two government agencies come to fruition, the healthcare arena would be a friendlier environment for entrepreneurs and technological innovation. From there, the success of any future health apps will be determined by the adoption rate among physicians and consumers.

Next Steps

Healthcare tech developers already using FHIR standard

CareNotify mobile app relies on secure messaging after discharging patients

Patient-focused app a priority for one health system

Dig Deeper on Mobile health systems and devices