CXO Tech Forum Previews Future of Health ITBy Adam Karides
Emerging technologies provide ample opportunity for Health Information Technology (Health IT) to better leverage medical data, facilitate the transfer and disclosure of records, and improve caregiving services to ultimately promote a healthier society. However, the federal government lacks the necessary systems and infrastructure to effectively embrace modern Health IT in a secure and convenient manner. To address these obstacles, GovernmentCIO Magazine hosted a ‘CXO Tech Forum’ to map out the road ahead for Health IT. The event featured a blend of speakers from Congress, federal health departments and agencies, and the private sector. After attending this jam-packed forum, here are three key takeaways:
Bolstering Cybersecurity is Paramount
Tightening cybersecurity protocols was overwhelmingly mentioned as the top priority necessary for supporting a newer and more improved Health IT landscape. Modern Health IT systems harness valuable data, but without proper infrastructure, they cannot be fully leveraged to maximize caregiving. Currently, the government and care centers alike must be risk-averse in how they handle delicate health data. But with more stable cybersecurity, they can more freely take advantage of the data they posses, and fortunately they are working to adopt more reinforced frameworks. According to Todd Simpson, the CIO for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), leveraging data to better serve citizens while “ensuring data isn't compromised” poses an immediate challenge for Health IT. To mitigate this threat, he not only advocated for more rigid cybersecurity measures, but also expressed the need to equip CIOs and decisionmakers with introductory risk management tools for them to safely embrace and utilize data.
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) relayed Simpson’s urge to implement more impenetrable cybersecurity. When asked about the most disruptive factor in Health IT, he quickly pointed to the constant threat of cyberattacks. In an effort to shore up these vulnerabilities, Rep. Connolly co-sponsored the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) to provide CIOs with a ‘scorecard’ to assess their agencies’ and departments’ cybersecurity infrastructure. The bill has been so successful that Congress recently ratified the FITARA Enhancement Act, which Rep. Connolly sponsored.
Establishing Standards to Support Interoperability and Collaboration
Even if the necessary cybersecurity frameworks are implemented to securely take advantage of Health IT data, standards and interoperability must also be in place to enable its use. The frustration over the lack of interoperability was apparent: Mr. Simpson described it as a “nightmare” and HHS CIO Beth Killoran alluded to the difficulty in handling opioid data in five different formats to help combat this epidemic. To ensure that data can be seamlessly obtained and utilized amongst agencies and departments, certain programs must be instituted. For example, Mr. Simpson referenced the FDA’s cloud computing brokerage platform that displays data in an actionable format that can also be repackaged for further use.
Another new technology was mentioned as a solution for implementing standards and interoperability: blockchain. Debbie Bucci, a prominent government blockchain advocate for the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) at the HHS, discussed how it inherently harbors security and interoperability at its core. Among its various attributes the government is exploring, its capacity to make data interoperable and more agile is at the forefront. Specifically, the ability to meld disparate data sources into a common and digestible lexicon can be instrumental in solving this challenge. While the technology is not mature enough for governmentwide adoption, the notion of merging chains of data into an interoperable repository is certainly attractive.
Fostering Proactivity Through Modern Health IT Integration
The ultimate goal of modern Health IT is to embrace these emerging technologies to encourage a healthier society. One way it can do this is by channeling these technologies to prevent health hazards instead of reacting to them once they surface. However, solutions to the aforementioned challenges must be cemented in order to cultivate a more proactive healthcare environment. In particular, the government must undergo the process of “building funnels that can accommodate any problem,” according to Mr. Simpson. One such system that was discussed is cloud computing. Once this groundwork is laid, decision makers and healthcare providers can then leverage devices that sniff out potential outbreaks and other health risks before they happen.
A technology that can wield this type of prescience is artificial intelligence. By feeding AI machines with health datasets, they can process mind-boggling amounts of data at blazing speeds to develop the ability to conduct evaluations through predictive analytics. As described by Todd Stottlemyer, the CEO of the 117-acre Inova Health Center for Personalized Health, AI can already more quickly and effectively run radiology tests, and the technology will continue to be rolled out to aid Inova’s workforce, not replace it. Nonetheless, interoperability must be achieved and cybersecurity threats must be reduced to advance healthcare for it to be more proactive.