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Boston researchers create 'SMArt' platform architecture, launch $5,000 health app competition

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Boston, Mass. Through a grant from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), researchers at Children's Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School have developed a first-of-its kind platform architecture to support a flexible health information technology (IT) environment and promote innovation. The SMArt (Substitutable Medical Applications, reusable technologies) platform and interface are being made publicly available today to kick off the start of a $5,000 competition challenging developers to create web applications that provide specific functionality for patients, physicians, or for public health.

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

ONC awarded $15 million to the project in April 2010 through the Strategic Health IT Advanced Research Projects (SHARP) program. The SMArt project will enable the equivalent of an iTunes App Store for health and support an ecosystem of 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, MPH, 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, PhD, also of CHIP, Harvard Medical School and co-lead on the SMArt project, held a SMArt Developer Meeting which 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 is being made publicly available today.

"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 health care 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," said 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 and an environment for development. Entrants are eligible to receive an award $5,000 and release in an "App Store" for best application.


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