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HHS' Todd Park Shares His Vision for HIT Innovation

December 2, 2011
by Gabriel Perna
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At the New York eHealth Collaborative Digital Conference, Park talked about how it is an advantageous time to be in health IT

At this year’s New York eHealth Collaborative Digital Conference in New York City, Todd Park, chief technology officer of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, left a crowd of roughly 600 attendees in a stir at the end of his keynote address. Park’s stirring speech, which was greeted with a standing ovation, was centered on how there’s never been a better time to sit at the crossroads of health and IT. The New York eHealth Collaborative is a non-profit public-private partnership between providers and other stakeholders with the aim of shaping a HIT standard in New York.

The speech, which kicked off the two-day health IT-based conference, was similar to the one, Mark Hagland, Healthcare Informatics’, Editor-In-Chief heard one month ago at the Merge Live 2011 Client Conference in Chicago and that HCI Associate Editor Jennifer Prestigiacomo reported on from another earlier conference in Washington D.C. As in those speeches, Park focused on the two “mega-trends” that are making innovation in health IT (HIT) possible.

Todd Park

The first mega-trend that Park talked about is the shift in incentives. At length, Park discussed incentive-based regulatory acts, including the meaningful use of electronic health records (EHRs) from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act/Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (ARRA-HITECH), and from the Affordable Care Act (ACA). For the ACA, Park talked about the important role health IT will play in helping providers understand patient populations.

“There’s a huge opportunity if you’re a data IT innovator to help care providers get clinical data, analyze it, do decision support, extend the reach of physicians outside the walls of the medical hospital, coordinate with other care providers, engage patients and compel health forward,” Park said during the speech. “If you’re an entrepreneur, this is the greatest entrepreneur opportunity since the advent of the internet.”

"Information Liberacion"
The second element that’s helping spur the HIT movement is what Park calls, “Information Liberacion.” Park told his audience that HHS and other government agencies have freed up countless amounts of health information data to better service clinicians and patients. Over the length of his speech, Park detailed several collaborative efforts that have already taken advantage of this information.

Similar to how the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) data has spurred the entire private weather information industry, HHS is attempting to do the same thing with health data Park said. The idea is to open up “the vault” of information to spur innovation. It’s taken on the name, “Joy’s Law,” after Bill Joy, the former Sun Microsystems chief. Joy once said that no matter who you are, the smart people in the world don’t work for you.

In addition, Park went into detail about several initiatives such as code-a-thons that challenge innovators directly to use the freed up information. Many of the code-a-thons and challenges are hosted on the site, http://www.health2challenge.org. The accumulation of these challenges occurs at a yearly, ‘datapalooza,’ where applications are judged against each other.

To end his speech, Park reiterated his point about how this is an advantageous time in health IT. “I know it’s a stressful time in healthcare in a lot of ways because it’s disruptive. But it’s beautiful in a lot of ways as well because the disruptions have a way of engendering incredible change. And if you really care about leveraging the power of data and IT through health and healthcare in America…there’s literally never been a better time,” he said.

Park’s enthusiastic speech had everyone talking even well into the next few panels. Besides many of the other panelists noting that was hard to top Park, they cited his speech. Jason Shapiro, M.D., M.A. and associate professor at Mount Sinai Medical Center, speaking at the Event Detection and Provider Notification with Health Information Exchange panel, noted the importance of Park’s point on “Information Liberation.” He said how there is a lot of potential to innovate because of the freed information.

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