A Big Idea – and an Ambitious Approach – for Addressing Major Health Crises

Well, I finally figured out the definition of “huge.” No, I’m not referring in any way to the word as used by the new administration in Washington. Rather, I’m talking about an event at which I had the privilege to speak earlier this month in Orlando, where over 42,000 attendees (yes, you read that right) came together to focus on a subject that’s at the core of Stewards of Change Institute (SOCI): improving the health and well-being of Americans through better use of interoperability and information technology.

There was a lot to like about the annual conference of the Health Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), from the array of innovative medical devices on display in the exhibition hall to the thought-provoking presentations of such dynamic keynoters such as IBM CEO Ginni Rometty. My own role was to participate in two (thankfully) well-attended workshops: first as part of a panel titled “Building Community-Based Solutions to Connect for Public Health – during which I explained a major national project on which SOCI and HIMSS are collaborating – and then leading a roundtable discussion of industry leaders and health IT professionals on how we can make this project as effective as possible.

So what’s the project? It’s a research-based report that’s designed to aggregate knowledge and provide recommendations with which our country can improve coordination across the spectrum of public health, community-based organizations, and health and human service programs to address health-related crises, from natural ones such as the Zika virus and hurricanes to human-induced examples like the Flint water crisis and the national opioid/heroin epidemic. This “guidance document,” which we expect to complete and disseminate within a few months, has four primary objectives:

  • To aggregate available knowledge on the use of interoperability and information-sharing
  • To synthesize best practices/processes to improve outcomes in health-related spheres
  • To offer realistic, actionable recommendations based on an analysis of current activities
  • To provide information and counsel/direction for the new federal administration, government agencies at all levels, private organizations and nonprofits

We’re still gathering and analyzing data, conducting interviews and developing our final recommendations, but we’ve already learned a great deal about what’s working and what isn’t. And, as a result, our roundtable at the HIMSS conference was able to discuss these concrete suggestions:

  • Creation of a hybrid model that is individual-centered, population-focused and community-based by fusing the most-effective components of existing systems
  • Implementation, coordination and utilization of existing infrastructure and systems (such as HIE’s, surveillance, etc.) to educate/train local communities before a crisis
  • Leveraging of emerging technologies and approaches, such as predictive analysis and data visualization, natural language programming and artificial intelligence
  • Creation of a systematized monitoring component embedded in law/policy – including longitudinal health records – to ensure that the new system is working

This guidance document is still a work in progress, and we very much want to make it as useful as possible on the ground, in real life. So we invite everyone to weigh in on what you’d like to see it cover, what guidance you think it should include and any other ideas you think would be helpful.

Thanks in advance for your input and, again, a big bow of gratitude to HIMSS for enabling this important initiative. Once we roll it out and work to implement its recommendations, we believe the impact could be – dare I say it? – huge.

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