HIMSS: U.S. CTO Chopra seeks private-public healthcare innovation

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Despite the innovations and the possibilities within healthcare reform, there is a culture gap within health IT today between consumers and the U.S. government, said Secretary Aneesh Chopra, U.S. chief technology officer (CTO) and associate director for technology within the Office of Science & Technology Policy, during his keynote address at the Health Information and Management Systems Society’s (HIMSS) annual Virtual Conference and Expo this week.

“When we think about all the challenges and opportunities that are before us in areas like healthcare reform [and] as we look to new and creative ways to care for people in areas like bundled payments…[we need to ask] how might we look at communications infrastructure as a means to capture value in the opportunities we laid out before us as healthcare reform is implemented,” Chopra said. “It’s what caused the President on day one to take action, calling for a fundamental culture change within the public sector to address three key principles that have embodied his definition of a government that works.”

The issues were transparency, engagement/public participation opportunities and the principles of collaboration, he said. “In light of these actions, [the administration] had begun a larger conversation in how we put forward a strategy in our economic/administration of government framework that’s focused on the long term.”

Chopra noted three key attributes that the Obama Administration is focusing on:

  • Commitment to an advanced IT infrastructure, promoting broadband: “When we think of an advanced IT infrastructure, we are speaking about the mobile revolution as well,” he said.
  • Open and competitive markets/entrepreneurship: Chopra remarked this includes promoting exports in a more aggressive manner and doing what “we can to spur public and social innovation.”
  • Investing in the building blocks of American innovation: “We need an all-hands-on-deck approach,” Chopra said. “To take the healthcare frame, it begins with how we understand cloud computing and mobility as platforms for application development, how we think about the role of open government to better connect us to information that can make us a little more effective in our local communities to deliver on the promise of health IT.”

“Last but not least [for the all-hands-on-deck approach], it’s thinking about the application innovation using some of these infrastructure investments that we’re making available as part of our commitment to catalyzing breakthroughs,” Chopra said.

Chopra noted some initiatives like iRhythm, the Let’s Move! campaign and Text4baby as programs that have spurred innovation to advance the health of the U.S. patient. For example, Text4baby, a private/public partnership, is a free mobile health education service to promote maternal and child health. According to Chopra, 15 wireless carriers have agreed to deliver Text4baby messages to subscribers at no charge for two years and women who sign up will receive three personalized text messages each week, timed to their due date or baby’s date of birth.

Chopra said this program has already had a positive effect to remind mothers of prenatal visits. The service has not "had to spend a nickel of taxpayer’s money" and the number of subscribers is approaching 50,000 since February, he said.

“So much innovation we’ve seen in our society has had its origins in university campuses,” Chopra stated. “One of the challenges we’ve had over [the last four decades] has been the degree to which our university community has sufficient capacity to translate research on campus into economic growth.”

“I strongly encourage your active participation to find creative applications that will bend the cost curve and improve value, and do so on the creative and entrepreneurial energies of our nation’s leading universities," said Chopra, citing the i6 challenge, which will give $1 million to six communities through the Department of Commerce to find university-based start-ups that demonstrate better capacity to translate university ideas into economic growth.

Letters of intent are due from communities by June 15. Full applications are due July 15.

Noting other initiatives, Chopra said that the administration is still in the early days of unlocking the value of collaboration. The commitment to driving innovation is the spirit of the Obama Administration, he said. “It’s what we’re hoping to see happen in our healthcare system as we move forward on initiatives