By Ben Haseltine

Agents of change and advancement came together recently to celebrate the FedHealthIT100. The conference kicked off with Susan Sharer, President of FedHealthIT, speaking to the significance of the conference and calling attention to the opportunity for like-minded individuals to connect and make a difference.

Mr. Joe Grace, Jr., CEO of Grace and Associates, acted as moderator for the rest of the conference and did a seamless job of connecting each of the panels and award winners to one another, highlighting the inclusivity shared among the IT community in Government and industry.

Working together to bring solutions

Sean Hughes, Head of Design Consulting at Philips highlighted Philips’ efforts to address problems such as bringing telehealth to scale, creating an environment that is meaningful and functional; this, of course, coming with a patient and caregiver perspective in mind. Hughes called attention to the idea that working together with other industry partners can speed up the process of finding solutions. Hughes stated, “We are technology but we don’t start with technology, we start with people.”

A VA Culture of Personal Commitment

Jim Gfrerer, Assistant Secretary for Information and Technology and Chief Information Officer at the Department of Veterans Affairs, spoke about projects and developments happening in the VA including: the “MISSION Act” that calls for transformation around urgent and community care for Veterans; and programs like Agile, and human centered design that are at the forefront of developing Healthcare in a more streamlined way. But what the CIO was most proud of was the culture that currently resides in the Department of Veterans Affairs. Gfrerer spoke to the shared passion and dedication that flows through the VA. “It’s not business it’s personal.” He stressed the importance of creating value, and innovating across VA partnerships.

Challenges to Shifting the Landscape

The first keynote panel, “Disruptive Technologies Shifting the Landscape for 2020”, discussed the issues and potential solutions to the common problems revolving around IT. But it was Joe Grace’s final question that created the biggest takeaway: “What is your biggest challenge?”

Caryl Brzymialkiewicz, Assistant Inspector General and Chief Data Officer of the Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General, RE, cited the protection, consolidation of data, and the commitment to an acquisitions process.

Vid Desai, Chief Technology Officer, Food and Drug Administration, stressed the importance of understanding legislative factors and how policy can drive change, but concluded that the biggest challenge was that “Traditional IT solutions don’t answer the problems. We need to partner with industry solutions and increase the scale.”

Although traditional IT solutions don’t answer all of the problems, Neil Evans, Chief Officer, Connected Care, Veterans Health Administration, said that the solutions are in the mission of what you are trying to accomplish including: “Access to care, quality of the care, and the experience of care for the recipient of Healthcare.” He would later state that in order to do this and encourage innovation there needs to be an effort to, “Find the way to “yes”. That’s the way to innovate in Government.”

Driving to “Yes”

The second keynote panel, titled, “A Look Ahead: Key Initiatives and Programs for 2020”, sought to highlight future programs being developed that can help find that “yes” that yields innovation. Initiatives like operating at a pace, an emphasis on predictive analytics, and data-based decision making are what seemed to be the focus of Jose Arrieta, Chief Information Officer, Department of Health and Human Services. Going back to the common denominator shared by all fellow panelists, there was an emphasis on building a relationship between Government and industry partners.

Kate Goodrich, Director, Center for Clinical Standards and Quality and Chief Medical Officer, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, expressed the benefits of moving providers into alternative payment methods. Converting payments out of Medicare to 30% by 2020 and to 100% by 2025, allows time to work on modernizing IT systems that can be used to better access data and find its proper use.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is emphasizing a similar initiative in the modernization of electronic health records that will make Healthcare for Veterans easier and more user-focused. Bill James, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Dev/Ops, Office of Information Technology at the Agency spoke on modernization going beyond the technology. “What we are looking for is a better value and solution. It’s not about the technology… it’s about creating a new culture for our partners, patients, and clients.”

Lifetime Achievement

Beyond recognizing the 100 honorees, Lifetime Achievement Awards were given out to two individuals who have pushed boundaries in the IT field, garnering respect and admiration from their peers: Dr. Karen Guice and Dr. Richard Stone.

Dr. Stone spoke to the audience about his time in the VA, the challenges that he faced and that still exist in Government IT. “This is tough business…but it’s all about change management……but it is not the interfaces that drive success…it is all about change management and about moving an industry that has had the same model for 100 years. Can I use tech to ask the questions I am not smart enough to ask? What we need is to fundamentally change the way Americans receive their Healthcare.” It was a call to action that resonated with the audience and spoke to the change that had been alluded to throughout the conference.

Not Done Yet

Dr. Guice had a different message after receiving her award, speaking to a more emotional and personal theme. Guice shared how important it was to her to share this honor with who she described as “very talented people.” At the end of the day it is important to recognize that, although there is much to work on in Healthcare from an IT perspective, the only way to achieve like-minded goals is to work together and toward solutions. Guice closed on, “Although it’s called a lifetime achievement award, I’m not done yet.”

A photo gallery capturing highlights from the event is available here.

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