The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology ended its two-day update of federal health IT activities on Wednesday with cheerleading from three top government information technology officials.
Fed tech officials laud IT innovators at ONC Update
Aneesh Chopra, the Obama administration's chief technology officer and associate director for technology, led the first round. Although his portfolio covers a broad scope of industries, Chopra also serves on the federally charted Health IT Standards Committee and the enrollment work group of its sister HHS advisory panel, the Health IT Policy Committee.
Chopra led the crowd in a round of applause for Arien Malec, the HHS tech guru who led the development of the Direct Project, formerly NHIN Direct, an open-source software program designed to let providers exchange secure clinical messages over the Internet.
Chopra said the idea for Direct came from an Arizona physician who spoke at an Health IT Standards committee implementation workgroup meeting in November. The physician, Chopra recounted, had cut and pasted a patient's clinical information from his EHR and sent it in an e-mail to another provider because he couldn't quite figure out how to make their two EHRs communicate with one another.
"He freaked out the privacy and security crowd in the room," Chopra said, but almost a year and "25,000 lines of code later," NHIN Direct gives providers an easy and secure mechanism to do what that Arizona physician asked the government to help him do.
HHS Chief Technology Officer Todd Park continued with the upbeat theme.
"I would submit to you there has never been a better time to be an innovator in healthcare," Park said. "There is no more meaningful work being done than what you are doing and there has never been a better time."
Park said the "blue button" interoperability initiative developed jointly by Medicare and the Department of Veterans Affairs has proved its worth, with 130,000 people already using it to download a copy of their data.
Farzad Mostashari, a physician and the ONC's deputy national coordinator for programs and policy, wrapped up the closing panel.
Mostashari said that more than 1,000 people attended the two-day event in Washington in person and more than 10,000 people logged in to watch update sessions online.
"I think we came together as a community in a sense for the first time," he said. "We shared information; we shared insights. We shared enthusiasm. I saw light bulbs going off all over the place."
Looking ahead to 2011, "It's going to be hard," Mostashari added. “We will prevail, and a year from now when we come back together we will be able to show progress. We have the right strategy. We have the right people, which is the most important thing of all."
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