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2/5/2013
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Mobile Health Challenge: Only Open Apps Need Apply

New challenge aims to improve interoperability within healthcare through use of open architecture.

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A recent challenge posed by Heritage Provider Network, in partnership with UCLA, is calling for developers to create mobile health applications using open software architecture developed by non-profit company Open mHealth. Although there are many similar challenges out there, this one is aimed less at simply developing mobile apps and more at promoting the use of open architecture to increase integration in healthcare.

"Healthcare data, technology, health IT, EMRs -- everyone's talking about it and its use is exploding, but the problem is none of it talks to each other," said Jonathan Gluck, senior executive at Heritage Provider Network, in an interview with InformationWeek Healthcare. "We have a million applications out there and none of it is integrated. We have a big mess of what could be useful technology, but it's difficult to use it in any integrated fashion." The goal of the challenge, Gluck explained, is to increase the uptake of an open architecture that developers can create applications on. "It's a public awareness prize as much as anything else."

Open mHealth, a non-profit startup, builds open architecture software purely to promote integration in mobile health. The company uses a shared set of APIs, allowing applications data to be mixed and matched. This then pulls more valuable information from reusable data processing and visualization modules.

[ For the latest developments on Meaningful Use, see Meaningful Use Stage 2 Rules Finalized. ]

"We've worked for years to promote an open architecture in mobile health," said Deborah Estrin, co-founder of Open mHealth. "The inability of diverse mobile applications to be integrated with one another to serve particular patient needs has greatly hampered the progress in patient-centered disease management."

Gluck said development teams have until May 1 to submit their designs. A prize of $100,000 will be awarded in June at the 2013 Health Datapalooza in Washington, D.C. Submissions must be mobile apps using the Open mHealth architecture and must be hosted on a server selected by the development team. According to the challenge website, submissions won't be limited to health conditions, but to "optimize the success of the projects," each team is required to have a member with clinical expertise.

For Gluck and the team at Heritage Provider Network, which provides care to approximately 700,000 people in California, the challenge is an opportunity to offer value to clinicians and gather real-time information from patients. The winning application will allow patients with multiple conditions to input information simultaneously.

Although there's a frenzy of mobile app development, Gluck hopes that an open, Web-based architecture can channel it to be more useful for patients. Some apps are great, he said, "But patients who use them, including ours who have multiple [conditions], have to enter information into a number of different applications throughout the day. That becomes unwieldy, data doesn't integrate, and eventually they give up and don't want to use it. But this can change that."

Mobile applications are the new way to extend government information and services to on-the-go citizens and employees. Also in the new, all-digital Anytime, Anywhere issue of InformationWeek Government: A new initiative aims to shift the 17-member Intelligence Community from agency-specific IT silos to an enterprise environment of shared systems and services. (Free registration required.)

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