When resources are sparse, policymakers are looking for community partners

By Laura Lovett
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 Government agencies don’t always have deep pockets, which can mean there isn’t a whole lot of wiggle room for an innovation budget. But some policy leaders are finding ways to make that budget work.

Elise Sweeney-Anthony, director of the office of policy at the ONC, on Monday, said it is important for her organization to turn to stakeholders when looking to innovate. 

“We recognize all we are doing we cannot do alone. We want to hear from our stakeholder,” she said, speaking at the Innovation Symposium at HIMSS18.

She said that on the federal level, it is also important to make any regulation data accessible so stakeholders and innovators can understand the path towards that innovation. 

Reaching out to community partners is important for Michael Wilkening California Health and Human Services undersecretary. He said that while his agency doesn’t have an innovation budget, however, partnering with community members can give insight into an issue. 

But even when agencies are doing the innovation themselves it is important to get buy-in. The state of California started its open data portal three and a half years ago. But getting buy-in from staff wasn’t always easy, said Wilkening. In fact, even he was skeptical at first, so he started with the positive employees. 

“[We] got all of the departments on it. We started with the ones that were going to be most excited about it and most able,” Wilkening said.  

Opening up the data also gave the organization's ability to leverage internal data and share across departments, which can give insights on individuals overall health and situation—not just their clinical data. For example, during the recession, Wilkening was asked how many families were impacted by multiple job reductions. At the time finding those numbers and individuals seemed impossible. It’s not perfect now but they are one step closer to being able to do a search such as this. 
In fact, Mandi Bishop, senior advisor at the National Health IT Collaborative for the Underserved, said that most patient data exists outside of a clinical setting. 

“External influences matter so much more than we give them credit,” Bishop said. 

The use of data can also lead to some real-world initiatives. Bishop gave the example of a community resource group, which gave housing to “frequent flyer” patients who were homeless. The cost of housing the individuals was small in comparison to the medical costs but the data showed the cost paid off. 

“What is really interesting from everything you have heard is when you talk about innovation at the edges, the edge becomes the core,” Dr. Rasu Shrestha, moderate of the discussion and chief innovation officer at UPMC, said.