Feds share innovation secrets at Health IT Day


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Innovation was the word constantly echoing Nov. 13 at Health IT Day, organized by AFCEA Bethesda. Experts and government officials gathered to talk about how technology can change the way health care works in the United States.

Department of Veterans Affairs Chief Technology Officer Marina Martin said in her lunch keynote address it is time to empower patients and innovators through federal and private sector IT.

Martin issued a call-to-arms for government and private industry to keep learning and innovating.

“Technology is not a one-size-fits all solution and you can apply it very badly,” she said. “Going about innovation in a smart way and an informed way really helps ideas see the light of day.”

Martin shared her knowledge of ways health IT professionals can innovate in their field. “We need to find the people who are doing amazing innovations and sing their praises…make them feel like they are making a difference because that is how you are going to inspire more innovation,” she said.

Martin also suggested innovators go through the same process as their patients. “Be an undercover boss,” she said. As a presidential innovation fellow, Martin consistently checked herself in as a patient to find problems within VA.

It is important to empower the people who suggest ideas during this process, Martin said, but the bigger an organization is, the harder it is to reach the little guy.

Using websites where patients can comment and suggest ideas is a possible solution for larger companies, Martin said.

While Martin grappled with the theories behind innovation, Patrick Littlefield, acting director of the VA Innovation Center, and Jon McKeeby, CIO of the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center, wrestled with its implementation.

“Sometimes, I would like to be more innovative, but we have to make the trains run on time…innovation is what is available to me in resources to produce change,” McKeeby said.

One of McKeeby’s main challenges was balancing operations and innovation, with a staff responsible for both.

Littlefield found his focus on innovation was met with similar constraints, but from a broader spectrum.

“We are the custodians of the taxpayers’ money. How would I answer the question of what value they are getting for their investment?” he said of how he arranges his work goals.

Littlefield said he spends about 50 to 60 percent of his time on core innovations that are quick fixes and are less likely to encounter resistance.

“I’ve got to pay the bills; I’ve got to have wins,” he said. About 20 percent of his effort goes to harder goals that may or may not yield results. The rest of the time is spent on big-impact projects that move quickly and what he called Hail Mary passes: projects that shoot for the moon.

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AFCEA, Government IT News, Innovation, Marina Martin
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