AFCEA Panel Tackles Vital Issues

The Armed Forces Communications Electronics Association (AFCEA) Bethesda Chapter discussed HHS IT and Data Objectives at their opening session of the #HealthIT2022 virtual meeting held on February 1, 2022.

Presenters at the opening CXO panel  were George Chambers, Acting CIO, HHS, Kshmendra Paul CDO, VA, Rajiv Uppal CIO, CMS, and Sam Michael, Director, Automation and Compound Management, NCATS NIH. The session was moderated by Troy Schneider, FCW.

According to George Chambers, It was difficult at first to work remotely during the pandemic since more expertise was needed to streamline the process in order to move to the new normal. It was also difficult to deal with all the data available from hospitals in order to begin to understand COVID scientific and medical issues.

The HHS IT Strategic Plan FY 2021-2023 now has five goals in place.1) optimize the IT organization 2) accelerate technology modernization and innovation 3) enhance data and interoperability 4) improve IT management and governance, and 5) strengthen cybersecurity.

Rajiv Uppal pointed out “In order to deal with organizational change in these times, there must be investment in faster systems, understanding on how to deal with cybersecurity, and how to improve skills in the workforce to deal with critical missions. It is vital to move data systems to the cloud.

As for collaboration, it is necessary to meet with stakeholders in order to understand the issues, find solutions to help move those issues forward, and better engage and enable stakeholders and partners to provide ideas.

Sam Michael explained how NCATS mission is to advance translational science intermural programs and provide for a large grant program. He discussed how NCATS has moved rapidly during COVID to build NCATS’ National COVID Cohort Collaborative (N3C)

N3C is a centralized, secure, national clinical data resource with powerful analytics capabilities that researchers use to study COVID including risk and protective factors and long term health results.

The N3C systematically and regularly collects data derived from EHRs from people who were tested for COVID or had related symptoms. In addition, data is collected from individuals infected with pathogens that support comparative studies. The data includes information on demographics, symptoms, lab test results, procedures, medications, medical conditions, physical measurement and more.

During the pandemic, Kshmendra Paul, explained how the VA dealt with the remote work force. This was possible since VA’s IT was up to date and available. He explained how important it is to utilize data analytics capabilities to inform VA-wide decisions and to analyze information concerning VA programs. The focus now is on how the VA should not only handle data but also the future for data and the best ways to take the path forward.

He emphasized the need for the VA to work with the Department of Defense and develop a joint data strategy. One of the goals is to help service members receive assistance when transferring into the VHA system.

The panelists are pleased that there is a transition to the FIRE System where common standards are used to share common standards plus the FIRE System helps to successfully enable cloud computing.

Many advancements are helping to move data successfully. As a result, the movement of data and technology is getting easier, more accessible, and easier to connect from point A to point B. However, the panelists agreed that there are still a number of challenges which make it very important to not only adopt standards, but also to improve the quality of data in order to improve the efficiency of health and medical care.

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