AHIMA: Chopra closes convention with innovation inspiration

Healthcare innovation doesn't have to come from ivory towers or sprawling Silicon Valley campuses. The people in the trenches of health information management need to contribute, too, according to former federal Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra.

In the final session of the 2012 American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) convention Wednesday, Chopra, discussed, among other things, how "big data" could be applied to health information management the way analytics allows Google to suggest complete search queries based on the first few letters. "Imagine if a physician's calendar could be prepopulated with a list of patients most in need of interventions," Chopra said.

"These new tools are coming, but they need a business model to bring them to life," Chopra, who returned the Advisory Board Company in February as a senior advisor and subsequently announced plans to seek the 2013 Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor of Virginia, told this gathering of HIM professionals.

"You are on the front line," he said. "You should propose those ideas. You might see patterns from your point of view."

Chopra added that healthcare transformation was about more than just technology. "If this was about technology, we all would fail," he said. "We need the business model."

He noted that one of his proudest achievements during his three years in the Obama administration was the Open Data Initiative, known in healthcare as the Health Data Initiative, or, as current federal CTO Todd Park calls it, "data liberación." The Direct Project came out of this movement, almost by accident.

Chopra recalled a public hearing he had on data liquidity for personal health, where a primary care physician went off script and asked about why he could not e-mail records to another physician for a patient who was moving to another state. "In our attempt to keep our healthcare system wired and secure, we forgot a basic principle: simplicity," Chopra said.

Lawyers and lobbyists in the room gasped, but lawyers and lobbyists are not the end users of health IT. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology took this physician's comments to heart, deciding to standardize some health information exchange with e-mail, a system that just works.

The Direct Project came together within 90 days. Another 90 days after that, the protocols were being tested with live code.

"There has never been a better time to be an innovator in healthcare," Chopra said, echoing words from onetime colleague Wil Yu, former special assistant of innovations and research at the Department of Health and Human Services. Yu keynoted at AHIMA Tuesday.

[See also: AHIMA: Put patient at center, urges innovation guru]