Blumenthal Letter #11: Research and Innovation that Translates to Practice–SHARP Grants

Blumenthal Letter #11: Research and Innovation that Translates to Practice
$60 Million in SHARP Grants Awarded to 4 “Renowned Institutions”
(Additional post from ONC Chief Scientific Officer, Dr. Charles Friedman excerpted from ONC Blog below.)

Dr. David Blumenthal

 A Message from Dr. David Blumenthal, National Coordinator for Health Information
Emailed on April 2, 2010 
Our quest to improve the health of Americans and the performance of our health care system depends critically on the use of electronic health records (EHRs) and the electronic exchange of health information. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) has created a solid foundation of programs and initiatives to support health care practitioners and hospitals in implementing meaningful use of certified EHR technology, but we are admittedly at the beginning of our journey. ONC is keenly aware that technology needs to continuously advance, bringing new solutions that will make it even more beneficial. While I’m proud of what ONC has achieved so far, I’m humbled by the size of the task still in front of us. The HITECH Act — in its very design — clearly recognized a need for progressive and innovative thinking to overcome barriers and ensure the long-term viability of our health care system.   

To this end, today ONC launched a major initiative aimed at promoting research and innovation. Four  renowned institutions — Mayo Clinic of Medicine, Harvard University, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston,  and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign — were awarded research grants totaling $60 million through the Strategic Health IT Advanced Research Projects (SHARP) program. 

Each institution’s research projects will identify short-term and long-term solutions to address key challenges, including ensuring the security of health IT (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), enabling patient-centered cognitive support for clinicians (The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston), making progress toward new health care application and network-platform architectures (Harvard University), and promoting the secondary use of EHR data while maintaining privacy and security (Mayo Clinic of Medicine). 

These projects will be conducted by multidisciplinary teams led by recognized public and private sector leaders in health, including  researchers, the technology industry, and health care providers. The results of these diverse teams’ work will be translated into practice to produce innovative health IT solutions that can be deployed nationwide.  This is not ivory tower research; its goal is to quickly infuse the dynamic health IT sector with new thinking, ideas, and solutions.The SHARP grants announced today represent an important investment in the long-term future of health care for our nation. I am excited by the promise of these projects to fundamentally change the trajectory of health IT in support of better health and care.
David Blumenthal, M.D., M.P.P.
National Coordinator for Health Information Technology
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
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Health IT Buzz Blog Post from Dr. Charles Friedman, Chief Scientific Officer, ONC
 SHARP: Confronting IT Challenges Head-on and Investing in the Future of Health Care
Friday, April 2nd, 2010 | Posted by: Dr. Charles Friedman | Category: HITECH Programs
Excerpted from ONC Web site on 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 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.

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