Technology challenges, with big-dollar prize awards, have proven effective in other industries that sought to solve vexing problems. Now you can add healthcare IT, and the federal government, to the mix.

The Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology announced Tuesday that they are deploying a three-part strategy to spur the development of market-ready, user-friendly software apps.

The problem the agencies are trying to solve is taking clinical data and presenting it in a user-friendly way. The agencies are seeking to “foster private sector innovation to help make health information available in user-friendly formats to enable consumers and providers to easily and securely access and share electronic health information.”

The plan offers two software challenges and a competitive funding opportunity, the agencies said.

Two software challenges have been made, with prizes totaling $350,000 for app development. That amount will be split equally split between competition for consumer apps and another for provider apps. The goal for winning consumer apps is to help aggregate patient data “in one place that is under their control.” For the provider competition, prizes will go to developers that can create apps that “positively impact providers’ experience with EHRs by making clinical workflows more intuitive and actionable.

The agencies also said it will supply funding of as much as $275,000 to support the development of an open resource to make it easier for developers to publish their apps, and for providers to discover and compare them.

The strategy will leverage the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) standard of Health Level 7, as well as the use of open, standardized application programming interfaces (APIs).

The efforts are part of a larger movement to help consumers and providers benefit from the full potential of health IT, and it aligns with several other policy objectives, including the Federal Health IT Strategic Plan, the Interoperability Pledge campaign that includes vendor commitments covering 90 percent of the EHR market, and ONC’s health IT certification program.

“This strategy will help us reach the consumer and provider-friendly future of health IT we all seek,” said Karen B. DeSalvo, MD, national coordinator for health information technology. “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.”

For more information on these new activities or other ONC’s programs, visit Connecting and Accelerating a FHIR App Ecosystem.

For more information on the Funding Opportunity Announcement, visit here.

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