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NHIT Collaborative Summit Brings Together Thought-Leaders, Encourages Action in Reducing Disparities

NHIT Collaborative Summit Brings Together Thought-Leaders, Encourages Action in Reducing Disparities 

On April 22nd, 2015, the NHIT Collaborative convened thought-leaders across the spectrum of private/public and community leaders at its Spring Summit, to focus on opportunities to advance health equity through health IT innovation and collaboration.  

The summit featured thought leaders including Bryan Sivak, then-CTO of HHS; Michael Jackson, General Manager of Consumer Health at Intel; and Dr. Mark Johnson, Professor at Howard University College of Medicine.  

The summit also featured two lively panel discussions, focused on the requirements for successful health IT innovations and ways to leverage government health IT solutions to address health disparities. 

Across the comments from speakers and panelists, three key themes emerged for participants to take away: 

There has been no better time to move the needle on health disparities. 

The opportunity, 30 years after the Heckler Report first documented health disparities in underserved populations, and using health IT as a tool, to tangibly move the needle in reducing health disparities. 

In his panel discussion Leveraging Government Health IT Innovations and Initiatives to Address Health Disparities, Leslie Platt, Senior Advisor for MITRE Health & Human Services, focused on that opportunity, calling action the "one measure of consequence", and asking participants "are you going to move the needle?" 

Panelists represented a variety of government offices that focus on minority health issues- the ONC, NIH, HHS, CDC, and AHRQ.  Platt asked the hard questions during the discussion, wanting to know how panelists could remove roadblocks within the government to move health IT innovations that already existed into use for underserved communities, and what keeps them up at night. 

Panelists commented on everything from the definition of minority health, to rural communities as underserved communities, to the role of data in understanding, accepting and encouraging change to reduce disparities.  But one thing that united them all was the focus on interoperability as a challenge to be solved.  With so many providers now utilizing EHRs and the wealth of health information being made available through social media and activity wearables, the next challenge is figuring out how to aggregate and share out all that data in a meaningful way. 

Health IT is best used as a tool, not a solution.

Bryan Sivak started the summit with comments on his time at HHS, and the challenges that face our country today as we look at opportunities to leverage technology to reduce disparities.  He pointed out that the majority of advances in technology solve for issues that affect middle-class and affluent individuals, instead of underserved communities who need the most help.  And yet, there are positive steps being made every day- evidence to suggest that technology is already in the hands of underserved individuals and a case study of 18 California counties coming together to fund and build an application to provide real-time access to benefits balances, to name a few.   But he underscored the fact that health IT innovations cannot reduce disparities for underserved communities in and of themselves.  They have to be seen as a tool- a way to break down barriers that prevent underserved communities from achieving health equity- barriers in access, education, and more. 

Susan Dentzer, Senior Policy Advisor for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, moderated a discussion made up of private sector panelists working across private foundations, large corporations, online health information sites and even a venture capital firm.  Knowing that funding for initiatives to reduce disparities is often a barrier, Dentzer focused the conversation on opportunities within the sector to encourage and fund health IT innovations that have the ability to help underserved populations. 

Cross-functional teams are the only way to bring innovation forward.  

In her opening remarks, Susan Dentzer reminded participants of Margaret Meade's famous quote-

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.

Both panel discussions during the day focused on the need for wider collaboration across the public, private and community sectors.  Dr. Yvonne Maddox, Acting Director for the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, called out a particular need within the government to partner with HIT experts to bring innovation to the forefront as a tool to make positive progress.

Highlighting collaboration, Dr. Mark Johnson, Professor in the Department of Community and Family Medicine at Howard University College of Medicine, closed the event with comments referencing the core tenant under which the NHIT Collaborative was founded. Dr. Johnson also took the opportunity to address the NHIT Collaborative's Strategic Plan, which will be delivered at its 2nd Annual Conference in October 2015.  Dr. Johnson will be the driving force behind the plan, which will focus on barriers (including opportunities for providers and current technology) as well as best practices in health care.

To partner with Dr. Johnson on the strategic plan, please contact Luis Belen at

To learn more about the NHIT Collaborative, please visit

Added Wednesday, April 29th, 2015 by NHIT Collaborative

Kaiser News

  • Health IT
  • Heath Disparity