Children's Hospital Boston, Harvard launch app store, competition

For those of you worried about buying clinical and health apps from iTunes, a couple of Boston healthcare players have a new option: Build an app store yourself.

Children's Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School have done just that, announcing their new Substitutable Medical Applications, reusable technologies (SMArt) system this week. The two healthcare powerhouses teamed up two years ago to develop a new "iTunes like" platform architecture that could support an app store and mobile functionality. The core of the system will be an app store from which users can download, and switch out, different capabilities at different times.

"As developers begin to compete on quality, value and usability, we expect to see the introduction of an array of innovative functions and a drop in the cost of healthcare technology," says Kenneth Mandl, co-lead on the SMArt project. "Just as staple applications of the iPad, Android, and BlackBerry platforms constantly evolve and compete to meet user demands, the SMArt platform will enable health IT to do the same."

The latest statements from Childrens and Harvard don't indicate whether they'll share their new platform architecture with the wider healthcare world. But the chances are good they will, at least with some of it. The program was originally funded from a $15 million ONC grant, and was partially originated at an October 2009 HIT meeting of academics, government reps and healthcare industry players.

Childrens and Harvard also are jump starting app development with a new SMArt Health App Challenge for software that could ultimately run on the SMArt platform. The winner will earn a $5,000 prize (Really? Only $5,000?) for creating an app that serves patients, physicians, or public health with services like e-prescriptions, medication management and other tasks. The contest runs through March 31, 2011, with winners announced in June.

Note: It'll be interesting to see who takes the lead in the app-store wars. With vendors like Allscripts, and state groups like the Greater New York Hospital Association launching their own app stores, it's not clear who will be the seller-of-choice before it's all over.

To learn more:
- here's the announcement
- check out this BostInnovation post