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Information ‘Liberación’

November 23, 2011
by Mark Hagland
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A Federal Healthcare it Leader Shares his Perspectives on ACOs, Innovation, and Information Diffusion

On Wednesday, Oct. 5, Todd Park, chief technology officer of the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) helped open the Merge Live 2011 Client Conference, a user-group conference sponsored by the Chicago-based Merge Healthcare in downtown Chicago.

Park's rousing speech laying out a vision for how HHS can help to create a climate of, and opportunities for, healthcare IT innovation industry-wide, was energetic, yet specific, and led his audience of about 500 healthcare IT leaders to give him a standing ovation. Stating more than once that, “This is not your father's HHS!” Park articulated for his audience a three-pronged overall strategy coming out of HHS for leveraging information technology and the web to improve patient care quality and efficiency and make the healthcare system more accountable, transparent, and responsive to healthcare consumers' needs.

“There are three big things” HHS is moving forward on, Park said, and all three are elements in what he referred to as “information liberación.” Among the three, he said, is “patient-centric information exchange, as with the Blue Button program,” a web-based program through which healthcare consumers will increasingly be able to download their health information and share it with providers and other trusted parties. The second element of three, he said, is provider-to-provider health data exchange, as embodied in the federal Direct Project. And the third element of “information liberación” is increasing market transparency, with the aim of helping healthcare consumers to make better decisions.

Park spent more than a half-hour outlining and explaining to his audience a variety of initiatives being developed and launched at HHS that he believes will help to transform healthcare, through an ongoing collaboration between government and the private sector. In particular, Park said that he and his colleagues at HHS want the agency, via the new-ish www.healthdata.gov, to become “the NOAA of health data,” referring to the fact that the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has become not only a comprehensive data repository of weather-related data and information, but also a foundation for private-sector use of weather data, such as by The Weather Channel and weather.com.

IT'S A TREMENDOUS TIME FOR CLINICAL INFORMATICISTS BECAUSE THEY'RE NOW KEY PEOPLE TO MAKE THINGS HAPPEN. -TODD PARK

Underscoring his and his colleagues' vision of a federal government role not to control data diffusion but instead as a facilitator of innovation and collaboration, Park referred to a maxim articulated years ago by Bill Joy, a co-founder of Sun Microsystems, which has become known as “Joy's Law.” “Bill Joy,” he said, “used to say that, you have to remember that no matter where in the world you are, most of the smart people in the world work for someone else. I think of that; and that's what we're trying to achieve at HHS.”

Park commended the announcement by Merge Healthcare that the company was launching a new cloud-based imaging service, called “Merge Honeycomb,” which will enable users to upload, download, view, and share medical images, free of cost. That announcement, Merge Healthcare's CEO Jeff Surges said in a statement, was aimed at demonstrating that “We're harnessing the cloud in a way that encourages and enables faster collaboration among all healthcare stakeholders, resulting in a true improvement in the delivery of care and reduction of costs.”

Just prior to giving his keynote speech at the Merge user group event, Todd Park sat down exclusively with HCI's Editor-in-Chief Mark Hagland, to discuss his perspectives on current healthcare reform- and meaningful use-related developments. Below are excerpts from that discussion.

Healthcare Informatics: Do you feel the data reporting requirements coming out of the three mandatory healthcare reform-triggered programs [value-based purchasing, hospital readmissions reduction, and healthcare-acquired conditions], as well as the two voluntary ones [accountable care organizations, bundled payments], and the meaningful use program, are being harmonized well?

Todd Park: There's a bunch of work going on with that; and that harmonization among them is absolutely a goal. And as [National Coordinator for Health Information Technology] Farzad Mostashari has said, the point of meaningful use Stages 2 and 3 is to support care delivery innovation and payment reform. So a lot of work is being done; there's still a ways to go, of course.

HCI: One element in all this that has become increasingly clear is the degree to which clinical informaticists will need to be key figures in creating change in their organizations, in order to create the kinds of clinical and data transformation that are being called for by the healthcare reform and meaningful use mandates. What are your thoughts on the challenges and opportunities facing clinical informaticists at this point in time?

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