The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has issued a contest for developers to create software aimed at reducing medical errors in hospitals and outpatient settings.

HHS’ Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) is offering $70,000 in prizes for the Reporting Patient Safety Events Challenge. The first place winner will receive $50,000; second place $15,000 and third place $5,000. Entries are due by August 31, 2012. Additionally, ONC plans a webinar kickoff of the challenge with more details.

The current paper-based system for reporting medical errors is time consuming and tedious for both quality and risk management staff as well as physicians and nurses. As a result, reporting frequency and quality suffer.

By making it easier for qualified staff to file a report and ensure that forms are sent to the appropriate agencies, ONC anticipates better root-cause analysis and follow-up of events surrounding patient safety events.

The patient safety events software needs to be platform agnostic and use common formats, but allow for additional elements and narratives, according to the contest’s guidelines. It must also allow the hospitals, and their quality and risk management staffs, to add information from follow-up investigations; submit reports as appropriate to patient safety organizations, to appropriate states, or to the Food and Drug Administration; and track follow-up activities.

Submissions will be judged on compliance with the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s common formats; usability and design; ability to integrate with Electronic Health Records (EHRs) and other health IT data sources; and application of the Nationwide Health Information Network standards.

Other initiatives are also underway to prevent medical errors. Heidi King of the Department of Defense (DOD) Patient Safety Program and James Battles of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) were recently named 2012 Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal finalists by the Partnership for Public Service.

King and Battles developed a health-care provider training system for eliminating preventable medical harm. By the end of 2011 the program, was in use in all 50 states, reaching an estimated 25 percent of the more than 5,700 U.S. hospitals. It also has been employed in over 80 percent of DOD healthcare facilities worldwide.

ONC’s developer contest is part of its Investing in Innovation (i2) Initiative, which holds competitions to accelerate development and adoption of technology solutions.

A second current contest by the agency is the “Ocular Imaging Challenge,” which tasks developers with creating an application improving interoperability among office-based ophthalmic imaging devices, measurement devices, and electronic health records (EHRs).

Since the inauguration of the i2 initiative in June 2011 the agency has completed and issued a number of challenges.

Crowd sourcing has become a popular way for agencies to obtain fresh ideas. In addition to ONC, other agencies utilizing crowd sourcing include the Defense Department’s Advance Research Project Agency, which recently issued a $2 million prize for a next generation robot, Veteran’s Affairs and the Air Force .