HHS Launches $150,000 Ocular Imaging Software Challenge

Contest challenges developers to come up with software that integrates eye exam data and images with electronic health records systems.
10 Top Medical Practice Management Software Systems
10 Top Medical Practice Management Software Systems
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) has launched a contest that calls on developers to create software that improves interoperability among office-based ophthalmic imaging and measurement devices and electronic health records (EHRs).

The Ocular Imaging Challenge, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Investing In Innovations initiative, comes with a $100,000 first-place prize and is aimed at addressing difficulties that come with documenting ophthalmology examinations in EHRs. Lack of good integration between ophthalmic devices and EHRs have made many eye specialists hesitant to use EHRs in their practices.

Measurement and imaging devices used during eye exams produce data and images that are often stored in databases and file formats that have limited connectivity with EHR systems and ophthalmology-specific picture archiving and communication systems (PACS).

Furthermore, Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine (DICOM) standards are available for medical imaging devices, but many devices don't comply with them. Lack of standardization results in redundant data entry, workflow challenges, and difficulty integrating systems from different vendors.

[ Adding medical images to HIEs is the next step. See Maine Health Information Exchange Adds Medical Images. ]

The challenge for software developers is to find ways to "broker those conversations between the different devices and the electronic health record software," said Farzad Mostashari, national coordinator for health IT, in an online video.

"This is a tremendous opportunity because this is not just about ophthalmology or ocular imaging, this is a more generic issue of how do we integrate information from disparate systems." Mostashari said.

Wil Yu, special assistant for innovations at ONC's Office of the Chief Scientist, said in his blog that many other medical specialties such as cardiology, physiatry (physical medicine and rehabilitation), and otorhinolaryngology (ear, nose, and throat) are having the same data issues as ophthalmology. Yu anticipates that the winning entries could have an impact beyond ophthalmology.

Yu outlined some of the capabilities the software should have: The applications should be capable of converting the output of legacy devices from proprietary formats into vendor-neutral standard formats, archiving data from multiple devices, displaying images and data, allowing clinicians to manipulate images and data, and integrating with EHRs, he said.

"This tool would make it easier for ophthalmologists to save eye images and other data in a patient's EHR, lowering that barrier to adoption and enhancing the capability of EHRs to store all of a patient's medical data," Yu added.

Submissions for the new i2 Ocular Imaging Challenge are due November 9. In addition to the first-place award, a $35,000 second place prize and $15,000 third place will be awarded.

Get the new, all-digital Healthcare CIO 25 issue of InformationWeek Healthcare. It's our second annual honor roll of the health IT leaders driving healthcare's transformation. (Free registration required.)