The Department of Health and Human Services will have a code-a-thon next year to help drive the development of innovative solutions that leverage HL7’s Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) application programming interface.

The event, which will be held April 1 and 2 in Washington, DC, is expected to bring together developers from federal and state-based organizations along with entrepreneurs, startups and research organizations to build solutions using the open source FHIR API to facilitate the exchange of health information.

The FHIR code-a-thon will include a collegial competition, with the opportunity for the winners to showcase their work at Health Datapalooza, which takes place in May, according to HHS. “We want to find the innovators across federal government that are planning or piloting FHIR-based solutions and invite you to the code-a-thon to meet with others who are working with FHIR in the public and private sector,” noted the announcement, which calls FHIR the “hottest API in healthcare.”

“HL7 is delighted to be partnering with HHS and Academy Health on the FHIR-Code-a-Thon,” says Charles Jaffe, MD, HL7’s CEO. “We believe this is a unique opportunity to bring our federal agency partners together with the private sector to discuss the future of FHIR in healthcare. This event marks one of the initial steps in our Partners in Interoperability program, which will be growing internationally in the coming year.”

As manager of HL7’s Argonaut Project to accelerate the development and adoption of FHIR, Massachusetts eHealth Collaborative CEO Micky Tripathi believes it is an emerging interoperability standard that holds great promise for aligning the healthcare industry with the rest of the Internet economy.

“I’m especially pleased to see some federal government agencies actively engaged as participants in efforts to push FHIR forward, such as FHIR code-a-thons and the Argonaut Project,” Tripathi says. “The best way for the federal government to accelerate the use of FHIR in the healthcare industry is by example, rather than by regulation.”

Tripathi has committed his time and effort to the Argonaut Project, which has pulled together a broad coalition of provider organizations, government agencies and vendors seeking to rapidly develop a first-generation FHIR API and core data services specification to enable expanded information sharing for electronic health records and other health IT applications.

“FHIR code-a-thons are for the entire HL7 FHIR community and are a very important part of moving the entire standard forward,” Tripathi adds. “Argonaut is focusing on a subset of the FHIR standard and thus indirectly benefits from the code-a-thon activities. It’s good to have multiple implementation communities working in parallel to get the broadest possible market feedback to improve the standard.”

Likewise, John Halamka, MD, CIO of Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, contends that FHIR is an important technology that is early in the adoption cycle. “We need pilots, hack-a-thons and early products to refine the specification and ensure the implementation guides are matured, based on real world experience,” he says.

“Having been to a number of FHIR connectathons, getting a group of developers in a room together can be quite valuable,” comments Josh Mandel, MD, a Harvard Medical School research faculty member and co-chair of a new Health IT Policy Committee API task force. “Beyond the explicit objectives, these gatherings tend to discover very practical, real-world implementation issues, and often lead to fruitful discussion/planning for updates and fixes to the specification.”

Mandel is also a software engineer and lead architect for the Substitutable Medical Applications and Reusable Technologies (SMART) on FHIR project. Developed with funding from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, SMART leverages HL7’s emerging FHIR standards to make it as easy as possible for app developers to get to data and for EHR vendors to implement a common API.

Kenneth Mandl, MD, professor of biomedical informatics/pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and director of the Computational Health informatics Program at Boston Children’s Hospital, is the lead and chair of the SMART Advisory Committee.

”While there is high enthusiasm for FHIR, it will take a focused and deliberate effort to push the standard into common use across healthcare,” cautions Mandl. “This code-a-thon will activate the developer community. I’m very much hoping to see apps developed against the common SMART standard so they can run in any EHR implementing the SMART and Argonaut API, and be demonstrated in the SMART Apps Gallery.”

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