COMPETES Act Births Innovation Initiative for Health IT

Today, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) announced the Investing in Innovations (i2) initiative – an exciting new $5 million program to spur health IT innovations through prizes, challenges, and other mechanisms to improve the health care of all Americans. 

The core of this bold initiative will be a series of prize competitions – up to 15 each year – that will accelerate innovation and adoption of health IT for improved clinical outcomes and efficient care delivery. For example, a prize competition under i2 might challenge software developers to build new tools for the seamless exchange of health information among hospitals, clinics, and physicians with tailored privacy settings or to create new “blue button” apps that enable patients to download and reuse their clinical information.

This bold initiative leverages the new prize authority in the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 to execute on the President’s call for agencies to increase their use of prizes and challenges to spur innovation and solve tough problems.  The ONC Investing in Innovations initiative is a harbinger of a new paradigm in which – under the America COMPETES Act – prize competitions become a strategic tool in every agency’s innovation portfolio.

The i2 initiative builds on the success of prize competitions under the Department of Health and Human Services Community Health Data Initiative and the SMART Apps for Health challenge that closed last week.  SMART (Substitutable Medical Apps, Reusable Technologies) is one of several research projects supported by ONC through their SHARP R&D initiative and is focused on the notion that an open platform could transform the health IT market by reducing the distribution costs for entrepreneurs.

With just a modest $5,000 prize and a 90-day competition, the SMART Apps for Health challenge attracted over 300 supporters and 15 quality submissions, garnered a wide level of attention,and attracted a wide field of innovators, with what promises to be a significant catalyst for spurring a breakthrough, innovative health IT platform.  Contestants ranged from established companies to clinical researchers, to individual innovators. The creative submissions included specialized tools that enable clinical decision support through diagnostic applications, clinical dashboards that link EMRs with immunization registry and syndromic surveillance data, and multi-use applications that support clinical workflow and medical record annotation.

A star panel of judges is currently in a spirited debate as to which of the compelling submissions will go home with the prize. But on June 22nd, I’m convinced the real winners will be the care delivery system as the stories of what is possible attract new talent and ideas to bear on the future of health IT.  We look forward to engaging this fast-growing community through the Investing in Innovation initiative in the months to come.

Tom Kalil is Deputy Director for Policy at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

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