Health IT Challenges and the Future of Healthcare

Dr. Charles Friedman | April 2, 2010

Getting health IT “right” is difficult. Thousands of brilliant, creative and industrious people around the world have been working for several decades to realize the vision of making the technology a companion to care providers and patients, helping them make better decisions in support of better health. A scientific field of biomedical and health informatics has evolved around these efforts. Although great progress has been made, great challenges remain. While the health IT of today is largely equal to the task of supporting meaningful use as envisioned for 2011, current technology will be challenged by the more ambitious meaningful use visions of 2013, 2015, and beyond. Ongoing research and innovation will address these challenges

To that end, we announced in December the Strategic Health IT Advanced Research Projects (SHARP) program, as part of our HITECH initiatives. We identified four areas where breakthroughs are required: health IT security, patient-centered cognitive support of clinicians, innovative application and network-platform architectures, and secondary use of EHR data that maintains privacy and security. We invited the public and private sectors to propose collaborative research programs with the goal of developing “breakthrough” innovations. We further challenged applicants to bring the best minds in the country to bear on these key problems.

The response to our call was extraordinary in quality and quantity. The resulting competition was very keen. Today, after careful objective review, we awarded these very significant grants to four leading research institutions that submitted the most outstanding applications: Mayo Clinic College of Medicine (for secondary use), Harvard University (for platform architectures), the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (for cognitive support), and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (for security). All four projects will develop innovative solutions that will find their way into working systems in two years, while also exploring more fundamental problems that require longer term study.

As an informatics researcher and, formerly, a software developer, I am fully aware of how much we are expecting of these four projects. At the same time, I am fully confident that all four awardees are equal to our ambitions for SHARP, and that over the coming years, we will see from these centers breakthrough innovation and published research that will stimulate equally creative work by others.