Catalyzing Change: Connecting People and Systems for the Future of Population Health

By Lilly Kan, MPH, senior director of infectious diseases and informatics, and Kimberly Rodgers, MA, communications manager, National Association of County and City Health Officials; a National Health IT Week Partner

During National Health IT Week, champions from across the industry are uniting to share their voices on how health IT is catalyzing change in U.S. healthcare. The following post from a National Health IT Week Partner is one of the many perspectives of how information and technology is transforming health in America.

Lilly Kan, MPH

Connecting People to Catalyze Change

"If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."

This African proverb set the tone for this year’s Public Health Informatics (PHI) Conference on how we can work together to move public health informatics forward.

At the local, state, and federal levels, public health continues to face challenges – from budget constraints to workforce shortages to shifting priorities – that can make it difficult to expand the reach of services and resources. These barriers aren’t going away anytime soon. But, we can overcome them by combining our strengths and expertise to improve the collection, analysis, assessment, dissemination and application of data to make people healthier.

As such, all of us have a responsibility to look both within and beyond our organizations and professions to develop and strengthen partnerships that:  

  • Strive to put people and the human experience at the forefront.
  • Connect different sectors, such as public health, healthcare, social services, transportation and housing.
  • Bridge the organizational cultures of everyone “at the table” to operate through a lens of shared understanding.
  • De-silo departmental and programmatic data to create a 360-degree view of a person’s health and human services history.
  • Bring data together and provide people with the necessary training to use it jointly.

Collaboration can’t just be something we do; being collaborative has to be part of who we are. And as important as it is to bridge people for this purpose, it’s critical to ensure our data systems work well together, too.

Connecting Systems to Advance Change

The health system has undergone remarkable progress as a result of embracing digital technology and data. Data is being harnessed everywhere around us, but figuring out how to align our resources to coalesce and share it in a way that is automated, interoperable and secure is still a work in progress. Healthcare transformation continues to be plagued by process (i.e., data requests), technical (i.e., data formatting), legal (i.e., data access restrictions) and workforce capacity (i.e., informatics training) challenges. Yet these obstacles present an opportunity to change the culture of the health system so we can deliver care and services that help people not just survive, but thrive.

In discussing how to shift the culture, leaders at the conference emphasized change management as the key to gaining buy-in from your staff, leadership, partners and stakeholders, many of whom may not fully understand the need to re-envision or realign existing data strategies, systems, and sharing processes to be interoperable within and outside of your organization. The need to shift perspectives to look beyond information in health records and start tapping into data that tells us more about the social determinants of health that surround people's real, everyday lives was also highlighted. 

It was agreed that in our efforts to connect systems and facilitate data exchange, it's important to advance the things that have worked before, while remaining open to new approaches from innovators. Plus, as with all efforts to catalyze change, we were reminded that it's critical to show that the changes you implement are resulting in incremental advancement and producing value. 

Connecting People and Systems to Change the Future of Health

As the conference closed, attendees were left with a vision for bridging systems and people for the future of health. That vision boils down to this: Public health and its cross-sector partners must strengthen their ability to quickly and effectively gather and apply data to improve health outcomes. For this to happen, we have to make a serious commitment to strengthen the informatics capabilities of the public health workforce; leverage data and build synergy with healthcare; and explore how public health informatics can become the enabler of health across the spectrum of care. All of this is easier said than done, but the call to action gives us a greater sense of purpose and a greater sense of urgency.

As we celebrate National Health IT Week, I encourage you to catalyze change by figuring out how to do more with health information and other existing data (e.g., transportation, housing) to establish a more comprehensive picture of what your communities need to be healthier. Whether you’re ready to transform existing data into meaningful insights about your community’s health or are in the process of convincing your leadership that informatics matters, it’s imperative that you start somewhere and take action.

Cheers, and here’s to NHIT Week 2018!

The views and opinions expressed in this blog or by commenters are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of HIMSS or its affiliates.

National Health IT Week | October 8-12

Healthcare Transformation | Access to Care | Economic Opportunity | Healthy Communities

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