Not Just Another Symposium: Launching into the Future

Depending on which website you go to, you’ll learn that either President Abraham Lincoln or educator/ philosopher Philip Drucker came up with one of my favorite quotes: “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” Regardless of who first spoke those wise words, they neatly encapsulate what Stewards of Change (SOC) has been working to accomplish for over a dozen years. As those of you familiar with us know, we’re doing that by advancing interoperability in health and human services (and beyond!) and, as a result, we believe we’re contributing to creating a better future.

At our 12th Annual National Symposium last month, we took our biggest and potentially most-significant step to date along this path by launching – with our leadership partner, AcademyHealth – the National Interoperability Collaborative. We’re planning NIC as a “network of networks” that will: a) enable more and better partnerships, collaborations and linkages at the local, state and national levels; b) advance interoperability and information sharing in health, human services, public safety, child welfare and related realms (think social determinants of health and well-being); and c) catalyze, support and sustain positive, systemic change, especially for underserved individuals, families and communities.

It’s an ambitious undertaking, to be sure. Furthermore, it’s a concept that has been around in one form or another for a long time. Now, with deep thanks to the Kresge Foundation for $1.2 million in seed funding, we firmly believe this is an idea whose time has finally come. And I’m happy to report that we’ve got lots of company. Indeed, the response to the information we provided about NIC to the approximately 120 presenters and attendees at our symposium wasn’t just enthusiastic; wonderfully, it also included many comments like “How can I help?” and “How can my organization sign up?”     

The answer is that they, along with those of you reading this blog, will be able to share in and benefit from NIC in numerous ways. We’re currently working on a charter, membership, governance and other key organizational actions with our inaugural partners, which are the states of California, Connecticut and Virginia, along with the Healthcare Information Management and Services Society (HIMSS). We’ll keep you apprised regularly on our progress in blogs, webinars, other events and on NIC’s website once it’s operational later this year.

Meanwhile, please keep an eye on for ongoing information about this important work and how you and your agency or organization can be a part of it. Our website is also the place to go for videos of the presentations, graphic murals, PowerPoints and other materials from our symposium, which was titled Taking Action During Disruptive Times: Advancing Progress on Innovation, Interoperability and Technology in HHS. The event was held at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and, once again, we were honored to have JHU’s Bloomberg School of Public Health as our cosponsor.

The symposium had lots of highlights, notably including the launch of NIC and a presentation about a Guidance Document and Action Plan that SOC Institute will soon publish with HIMSS; among the innovative recommendations in that report is the creation of a new model for dealing with public health emergencies such as the nation’s opioid/heroin epidemic, among others. Better-addressing the opioid crisis is the focus of the first three projects we’ll be conducting with our initial state partners (California, Connecticut and Virginia) under the NIC umbrella. It was also a major focus of several symposium sessions, including a panel of senior federal officials who provided insights into the new administration’s priorities and reminded us that one of HHS Secretary Tom Price’s top priorities is … the opioid crisis.

I’ll end this blog with a quick glimpse at one of my favorite presentations at last month’s event: A panel on human services and healthcare integration with experts from Europe and Canada who discussed creative, effective programs in a variety of places – including Catalonia, Spain, and Manchester, England – that are no larger than 39 American states. In other words, they’re at a scale that most states could learn from if, as many of us expect, a growing number of HHS responsibilities and dollars will be devolving away from Washington, D.C., during the next few years.  In fact, integrating social and health programs so there is a more equitable spending balance is at the core of the most-effective systems across Europe and in other parts of the world. 

Perhaps now is the time to look beyond America’s shores for models that could be adapted to our needs and realities. After all, every change (including disruptive change) includes the potential for innovation and improvement. Wherever we’re headed, it’s critical that we continue to learn from each other, wherever we may live. That’s the foundation for creating a future we all want to see.

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