On Friday, Dr. David Blumenthal, National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, announced a new program to encourage innovation in health IT.

Through the HITECH Act, $60 million will fund projects for the Strategic Health IT Advanced Research Projects (SHARP) Program to support health IT research.  Each research project will be charged with formulating and executing a research agenda that will focus on specific goals of HITECH, and developing innovative solutions to overcome health IT barriers.

The mission of the program is to:

  1. Implement a collaborative, interdisciplinary program of research addressing short- and long-term challenges in one of four focus areas; and
  2. Develop and implement a cooperative program between health IT stakeholders – researchers, patient groups, health care providers and others – to transition the research findings into practice.

The SHARP Program will include focused research in areas where breakthrough advances are needed to meet the goal of making electronic health records (EHRs) available for all Americans by 2014. Each research project funded by the SHARP program will address one of four focus areas:

  1. Security of Health Information Technology:  This research area addresses the challenges of developing security and risk mitigation policies and the technologies necessary to build and preserve the public trust as health IT systems become ubiquitous.
  2. Patient-Centered Cognitive Support:  This research area addresses the challenge of harnessing the power of health IT so that it integrates with, enhances, and supports clinicians’ reasoning and decision-making, rather than forcing them into a mode of thinking that is natural to machines but not to people.
  3. Healthcare Application and Network Platform Architectures:  This research area focuses on the development of new and improved architectures that are necessary to achieve electronic exchange and use of health information in a secure, private, and accurate manner.
  4. Secondary Use of EHR Data:  This research area focuses on strategies to enhance the use of health IT in improving the overall quality of health care.

Applicants for the SHARP Program must be a U.S.-based public or private institution of higher education or, other public or private institution or organization with a research mission.  Four awards are expected, which will offer four years of funding. Optional letters of intent are due to ONC by January 2, 2010 and applications are due on January 25, 2010. Award decisions are expected for March 2010 with the program beginning in April.

The timing of this research seems somewhat delayed, as this research would have been useful in building the health IT infastructure prior to widespread EHR adooption and use if health IT. Instead, it looks as if this reaserch will be simultaneous with the health IT boom.